Interview with Dan Fitzgerald on the occasion of the cover reveal for The Delve, the first in the Time Before trio of linked romantic fantasy standalones.
This interview contains explicit language and adult content. It is not safe for work, unless you work someplace really cool, and should not be read by anyone under the age of 18.
Krystle: Let’s start with some ice-breakers! Tell us a bit about yourself and the books you have so far?
Dan: I started out writing kinda classic fantasy; Hollow Road was inspired by my dissatisfaction with my D&D campaigns, honestly. Tthings started getting unexpectedly spicy in my second book, The Archive, which was quite nervewracking! It settled down again with The Place Below, the end of the Maer Cycle, which has no spice.
The “spicy sequel” conundrum continued with my Weirdwater Confluence duology, where the first book (The Living Waters) had only one kiss, and the second book (The Isle of a Thousand Worlds) was a volcano of spice (hence the cover). I learned a lot writing that book, about myself and about writing smut, which I now do with great confidence, I’m happy to say.
Krystle: What’s on the menu this evening? Are you eating or drinking anything special?
Dan: Gonna make chili tonight, lamb and beef combo, which seems fitting since fall has finally arrived!
Krystle: YUM am I invited?
Dan: You are always invited to my house anytime you’re in DC!
Krystle: <3 How would you describe your writing process in ten words or less?
Dan: Slow and steady wins the race.
Krystle: It sure does! It’s been amazing to watch you draft in the time we’ve been friends; your methodical style GETS. SHIT. DONE!
Dan: I love how different authors have such different methods! I could no sooner do the sticky note editing madness I see you post about than fly to the moon. I am very set in my ways.
Krystle: Your ways get awesome results! Which is a perfect segue to the next question I wanted to ask: we’re here to celebrate the launch and cover reveal of The Delve so, how would you describe The Delve in ten words or less?
Dan: Spicy romantic dungeon fantasy. The tagline is The sword wants what it wants.
Krystle: I love that tagline; it’s the perfect way to say “Romance, but Make It Fantasy.”
Dan: Or Fantasy, but Make it Phallic
Krystle: LOL EXACTLY! Why don’t you tell us a bit about how you got here. You started out with a lot less spice than you have now, but this trilogy that you’re working on is FULL HEAT. It’s been really cool to watch your confidence in that aspect evolve and grow, but what set it off? What made you decide this is the way your journey needed to go?
Dan: When I got back into reading fantasy after a long time, I asked a few friends for recs, and it was a sausage-fest of traditionally published fantasy. Which was fine–that’s where fantasy has been, but I want to emphasize the HAS BEEN. I decided to pick up some fantasy books not written by old white men, and pretty soon I found that you could have ROMANCE in fantasy books and it made them BETTER (to me, anyway). Next thing you know, I’m actively seeking out fantasy books with romantic plotlines, and now I hardly pick up one that’s not romantic. So my reading definitely influenced my writing. And as you know, Legacy of the Brightwash was important in that progression as well. Seeing full-on fantasy with really heartfelt, emotional, and steamy sex scenes was a revelation.
Krystle: ::insert blush gif here::
Dan: So once I started seeing it in my reading, it naturally crept into my writing more and more. But it was very stressful at first! I sweat so many bullets writing and editing The Archive, and even more with The Isle of a Thousand Worlds, my spiciest published book. But it’s what I love to read, so it’s what I write.
Krystle: Yeah, it can be a real gamble, putting yourself out onto the page like that. Especially when sex on the page seems to be such a divisive topic in the community.
Dan: We could go on and on about that, as we have before and surely will again, but I’m here to try to normalize it. The Delve has large chunks of violence, and heaping helpings of spicy sex scenes, all of which hopefully make it exciting to read and emotionally fulfilling, though time will tell if I succeeded.
Krystle: And I *love* that you’ve pivoted with your whole heart and soul. No one can deny that when you made normalizing sex and romance in fantasy, you put all your chips on the table and just WENT FOR IT, which is why I was so excited to do this interview with you. I loved watching you navigate your creative voice with Yglind and Ardo and I’m SO excited to celebrate their launch!
Dan: ::insert nervous laughter:: Thank you! The book will come out in February 2023, and I think the cover, designed by Luke Tarzian, really gives the sexy fantasy vibe I’m shooting for. It’s been a journey, and I honestly can hardly remember how Yglind and Ardo came to be, but I had this idea about a knight and his (fully adult) squire who were lovers, and the rest kind of went from there.
Krystle: Is it fair to say that you went with a knight and his adult squire because you wanted to kind of explore how a power dynamic in a relationship can shift in unexpected ways?
Dan: I don’t know if that was my intent, but it surely worked out that way. Yglind has high social status and is a boisterous, aggressive type, and Ardo is of low status and is quiet and thoughtful. Ardo sees Yglind’s soft side, and wants the world to see the Maer he really is. But their dynamic is complex–Yglind is a classic “top” in some ways, but Ardo holds Yglind’s heart–among other things–in his hands.
Krystle: BOY DOES HE. Okay so you’ve talked about Yglind and Ardo’s emotional cores, but why don’t you tell us about the overarching plot of The Delve? It’s a dungeon crawl, right?
Dan: ::cracks knuckles:: Yes, and I should mention that The Delve is the first of the Time Before trio, three standalones set 2,000 years before my other books. There are connections between all of the books, but you can absolutely start with any of them.
Krystle: And people who have read your first trilogy will recognize Yglind’s name, is that right?
Dan: An astute reader of the Maer Cycle might recall his name, yes, but more memorable would be the general concept of the Time Before in the other books–a mystical time where technology and magic flourished, where the Maer civilization was at its zenith, before its inevitable downfall. And of course the Ka-lar, the horrifying undead creatures of old, were living Maer during the Time Before, and we get to learn a bit more about how and why they were put into hibernation.
Krystle: I love the idea of tying the series together like that but also letting each trilogy stand alone in that you don’t have to read them in publication order. So back to The Delve: a dungeon crawl. Is it a quest?
Dan: Right, the premise is that the Maer are on the verge of war with the humans, and their brightstone mines, which they rely on for the magical tech that gives them the advantage in the war, all go dark at once. Yglind is sent with a small team (Ardo, his squire, and Aene, a mage) to investigate, while other teams go to investigate the other mines.
Krystle: We’ve been mostly focused on Yglind and Ardo, but I remember Aene from the snippets I’ve seen and I love her so much. I can’t wait for our girl to steal people’s hearts!
Dan: Yes, Aene starts out quiet, but she makes a big impact. There are…entanglements with…characters…it’s complicated, but not only does she turn out to be a pretty badass mage, she’s also a great foil for Yglind and when she sees something (read: someone) she wants, nothing’s going to get in her way. Not even Yglind. Also her magic is really cool I think–based in magical tech, which I won’t spoil but I’m really excited about it. It’s one of three separate magic systems in the book, all of which use different magical tech.
Krystle: I really like the way you’ve been mixing what are essentially war stories with such tight, personal focuses. There’s often a temptation to have a very wide scope when we as fantasy writers talk about war, but you’ve pulled things down to an intimate (pun intended) level so that readers are going on a very human–fucking humans–I guess a very Maer journey, that tell these beautiful and at times heartbreaking love stories in the midst of their societal chaos.
Dan: That is surely my hope. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Timon, a dwarflike race whose mine is the setting for the story. They are sort of collateral damage in the larger war between the Maer and the humans. One of the POV characters, Skiti, is a Timon artificer, and I try to give as much grit and detail to their society as to the Maer’s, even though we don’t see it as much.
All three books in the Time Before trio have war as the backdrop, but only in The Delve do we see a lot of fighting. The other two are romances, with war as the setting. TBH I’m not a big fan of writing or reading detailed descriptions of war. Small-scale fighting and quests, yes, but large-scale war is not my bag.
Krystle: What were some of the challenges you faced as you made this pivot toward romance-focused stories?
Dan: Confidence was a big one, but I’m mostly past that at this point, having enough romantically focused books under my belt that I don’t get too squeamish about it anymore. But honestly since I discovered romantic books very late in the game, my stories might look very different from those who have been reading and writing in the genres for a long time. Which is fine! But it does have me a bit nervous. For The Delve, it’s a different story, because it’s not a romance, though it DOES have HFNs for most of the characters. But the other books are romances by the classical definition, and Wings so Soft is probably the most romance-y of them all, and I hope my personal flavor will appeal to some readers.
Krystle: Yep, everyone’s journey is different and that’s the beautiful thing about this industry.
Dan: For sure! Every book should be a new journey.
Krystle: Were there any victories or accomplishments along the way that were a pleasant surprise?
Dan: One big thing for me has been my increasing comfort level writing a diverse cast of characters. That has been true from the beginning, but it’s getting easier the more I do it. I’m pretty sure I’ve been exploring questions of identity through my writing, as one does, and writing queer characters of various stripes has been something I really gravitate towards more and more.
Krystle: It seems like it’s been a liberating experience for you, and in a way it seems (at least to me, a friend and spectator of your life) that it gave you the tools and the language to understand yourself better.
Dan: 100%. I’m still in the discovery phase, but hurling myself deeply into characters who are not like me–or who are not like the me I always assumed I was–has been instrumental in my process as a writer and as a person. To be clear, I have worked with sensitivity readers on most of my books, including this one, because the last thing I’d want is to write something harmful or insensitive, but I feel comfortable working with the process now–I see them as partners in helping me tell a better story and writing better characters, as you obviously know as well. It can be intimidating at first, but now I see it as just part of the process.
Krystle: Yep I’m totally with you—my journey was similar, in that asking a sensitivity reader to help me understand Tashué’s emotional arc gave me some tools to understand myself more completely. It’s the thing I like the most about writing (other than, you know, getting the story told) where building these relationships with editors and readers and the community can be an investment in personal relationships if you’re willing and able to ask questions about yourself.
Krystle: ANYWAY—back to The Delve, you talked about the inclination to write about a squire and a knight, but were there any other big inspirations that really drove you to tell a romance story in a dungeon, of all places?
Dan: ::shifty eyes:: I honestly didn’t know at first how spicy the book would be–I say that every time, so it shouldn’t surprise me, but it’s true. Anyway, I delved a bit into the underground world in The Place Below, and in some ways underground/dungeon adventures take me back to my roots as a D&D nerd. I’ve also read a handful of D&D themed books, but most of them have no or almost no romance. And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could have BOTH? So I did!
As for the dungeon theme, there are a couple of bondage scenes in the book–I’m not going to sugar-coat it because they are HOT and CONSENSUAL and TENDER and I love them, and people who aren’t into that might want to skip this book. So if people want to imagine something dungeon-y, that’s cool with me, but just know that my flavor of smut is always on the soft side, except, well, you know.
Krystle: Except the parts that get the job done. Like that sword that wants what it wants 😀
Dan: I do have the line “as hard as a sword pommel” in the book. True story.
Krystle: LOVE IT. Other than swords and bondage, what can readers expect Yglind, Ardo, and Aene to encounter down there in the Brightstone mine?
Dan: Well, you might notice a dragon on the cover, but it’s not the flying, breathing fire and talking like Sherlock Holmes type of dragon. More of a gore-plastered-to-its-face dragon hounding you through dark tunnels with teeth like shards of broken pottery dragon. I adore it, and I love the way the dragon part of the plot unfolds. And of course there are other beasties down there, not to mention the reason the mine went dark in the first place–I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that Yglind frequently shouts about the Fucking Humans™️
Krystle: Those Fucking Humans™ you really can’t trust them!
Dan: Although…well, let’s just say it’s not unimaginable that somewhere in this trio of books there could be a double entendre to the moniker, as there was in the Maer Cycle (though they were not called that there)
Krystle: LOL someone, somewhere, might find a human worth sitting on, hey?
Dan: It’s within the realm of possibility. After all, the exoticism of their mostly hairless bodies is rather exciting to some Maer, however freakish and disgusting most of them find it. And for anyone who missed the memo, Maer are like humans but covered in hair from head to toe, and even the females have beards.
Krystle: Well Dan, it’s been over an hour now and this was exactly as much fun as I hoped it would be. As we think about wrapping up, is there any last piece of information that you want to share with our readers?
Dan: Thank you so much Krystle–it’s been a pleasure and an honor as always! I’d like to mention that ARCs of The Delve will be available soon, and there’s a form for anyone who might like to check out this 250-page fast-paced spicy romantic dungeon fantasy book before February. And the Goodreads page for the book is also live, so folks can add it if they like!
Krystle: Let’s quickly do ten words or less to describe your trio (I love them so much and I’m excited for readers to meet them.) So,
Yglind: Never saw a problem he couldn’t fight or fuck his way out of.
LOL good answer, my kind of guy
Ardo: Believes the best of everyone but is no doormat.
Aene: The quiet one who won’t stop until she gets what she wants.
Krystle: Aene is a bit of a force of nature; the guys get the spotlight since it’s their romance arc but Aene kicks some major ass. I can’t wait for people to meet her!
Dan: Aene gets a romance arc of sorts too, though it’s…not the same as theirs. But she kicks every bit as much ass as Yglind, and she gets a couple of great spicy scenes as well.
Krystle: Congrats on the beautiful cover, and on behalf of the self-published community: Welcome to the party, and we’re so lucky to have you. I’m so excited to help you launch this new stage of your career, and we’ll have to chat again for the cover reveal of Wings so Soft!
Dan: Thank you so much! Luke Tarzian absolutely killed it: the darkness, the menace, the sexy red…I couldn’t be happier. The whole self-pub community is an absolute joy, and I owe them all so much. You are a gentleperson and a scholar, and I look forward to celebrating your newest release very soon!
You can find all of Dan’s links in this handy Linktree!