Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!
Today I get the honour of speaking to A.J. Calvin, a marvellous person and great author of epic fantasy! A.J.’s current published works include: The Moon’s Eye; The Talisman of Delucha; and Hunted.
P.L.: So honoured to be able to interview you, A.J., for Six Elementals Interviews! For those reading this post who may not be as familiar with your work as I am (I loved both books I’ve read by you thus far, The Moon’s Eye & The Talisman of Delucha) can you please tell us, in some detail, about your Relics of War series, your writing style, what we can expect to read when we delve into a book written by A.J. Calvin?
A.J.: Thank you so much for this opportunity, P.L., and I’m thrilled you’ve enjoyed the books!
Most of my books are epic/high fantasy, with the exception of Hunted, which is urban fantasy. I’m a scientist (microbiologist) by day. One thing I try to incorporate in my books is an element of biological realism, whether it’s explaining the genetic component of the summoners’ power, or how the venom glands in Vardak’s tail work, there’s always something, even if it’s minor. My current project has involved a lot of research on boa constrictor anatomy, for reasons that I can’t reveal right now.
The Relics of War follows a relatively classic good vs. evil theme that crops up in epic fantasy often enough. When I began writing the series in the late ‘90s, I’d been reading a lot of Katherine Kerr, Raymond Feist, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Tad Williams. I think the basic format of the series was influenced heavily by what I was reading at the time.
But I wanted to add some unique elements to my work. There are a number of different peoples in the world of this series (more on them below), as well as a pantheon of gods who are relatively active in the scope of the world. As the series progresses, the gods become more intertwined with the story—and their presence isn’t always welcomed by the main characters.
As for my writing style, I strive to imbue emotion in my characters, even the villains. I want the reader to feel the characters’ heartbreak, their pain, their joy and sorrow…or their rage, in Dranamir’s case. I believe for a character to be memorable and relatable, the reader ought to feel something of their emotional state.
I also enjoy writing combat/fight scenes, probably more than I should. I think they’re a lot of fun, and it gives me an excuse to watch movies like 300 or Gladiator for “research” and inspiration. Not all of my books have fight scenes, but most do.
P.L.: I thought your fight scenes were excellent, so I see the passion you have for crafting them come out when I read your books. How did your writing journey begin? Have you always wanted to be an author? What made you decide to self-publish?
A.J.: It started long ago, in a classroom not so far away…
Ok, I’ll admit I’m a nerd and that was a bit cheesy. But that’s me. And I like cheese.
The truth is I first started writing stories for fun (not for school assignments) when I was in elementary school. At the time, I didn’t realize it wasn’t something other kids did in the spare time, it was something I did, and I enjoyed it. As I grew older, I continued to write more and more. It’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t part of my life.
I didn’t start to think about publishing until around 2007, when my husband encouraged me to look into it. Self-publishing as it is now didn’t exist yet. I did the query thing for a while and kept writing in the meantime.
I think I’m fundamentally unable to stop writing. The characters in my head demand that I tell their stories, and I can’t disappoint them.
Anyway, it wasn’t until the covid lockdowns a couple years ago that I really had the time to research and look into self-publishing. As I said, I’d been doing the query thing (for The Caein Legacy mostly, more on that series below), and while I got some feedback, I kept hearing, “I love your writing, but I have x number of other fantasy projects at this time and can’t take yours.” It was depressing, but I had other books drafted and more in the works. Rejection wasn’t going to stop me.
So, I decided to publish Hunted on my own, as an experiment. I never queried that book for a couple of reasons. It’s longer than the industry’s standard for a debut, and as an urban fantasy, I wasn’t entirely sure how to pitch it. Epic fantasy is more in line with my comfort zone, and I didn’t really know what to compare Hunted to. It’s…unique, to say the least.
I continued to query, with much the same results even after a lot of tweaking. So, I decided to update and publish The Relics of War while I waited. That was about a year and a half of rewriting and revising manuscripts I wrote as a teenager. It’s amazing how much improvement there is with twenty years of experience under your belt!
Side note: The Relics of War series was originally published in 2008-2010 through a vanity press. That was a huge mistake for several reasons, and a story for another time. Due to it being published previously, I didn’t believe it would be “qualified” for the query process in the eyes of most agents, so I didn’t bother.
Publishing The Relics of War was yet another experiment (I’m a scientist, so I tend to do that a lot). I was still holding onto the hope that I’d get somewhere with the query process for The Caein Legacy, but I wanted to see how well my other epic fantasy series would do in the indie world.
Let’s just say it exceeded all of my meager expectations and then some. After The Moon’s Eye was published, I understood just how well an indie book in that genre could do (and I’m pretty sure it could go a lot farther if I keep working at it!) I made the decision to stop querying altogether.
The fact is, I have so many stories I want to share, and I’m not getting any younger. I’m going to publish everything on my own from here on—because my experiments have proven I can do it, and people enjoy my writing.
P.L.: I felt the same way, A.J., which led me to self-publishing my first novel in my early fifties. I can definitely relate! Can you please share any books you’ve recently released, or are about to release, or any projects that you’re currently working on?
A.J.: I’ll start with the recent release, War of the Nameless, which is the third and final book in The Relics of War trilogy. It was published on December 6. If you’re a fan of epic battles, this book has one. I believe when I calculated it out, the events of that final battle span about 30% of the book. It isn’t all fight scenes, but there is a lot going on relating to the battle, and six major characters to keep track of.
As for upcoming releases, I’m planning to publish Exile, book one of The Caien Legacy in the first half of 2023. This series is set in a completely different world than The Relics of War, features different peoples, and a vastly different magic system. There’s a single main character who is half dragon and the last of his kind (this fact plays a significant role in the storyline.) The Caein Legacy was probably one of my favorite projects to write so far, and because of that, I’m both excited and terrified to be so close to sharing it with everyone. Exile is currently in the final editing phase, and the other three books in the series are written and mostly revised. I have a bit more work to do before they go to the editor, but I’m almost there.
I’m currently writing a standalone novel that runs parallel to the events in The Relics of War. The main character of this book makes a brief appearance at the end of War of the Nameless. I haven’t shared the title publicly yet, but I plan to soon.
I’m also working on yet another series, The Mage War Chronicles, which is set in the same world as , but at a much earlier point in time. I have the first four books drafted, but it will be some time before I begin to publish them. I’d like to release The Caein Legacy first. (Laughs) I have a lot of projects going on.
P.L.: Ohhh! Can’t wait to read some of those projects when completed! They sound amazing! Who are some of your writing influences?
A.J.: This is a surprisingly difficult question. I read a lot, and in many different genres. There are so many authors I admire, either for their storytelling, their prose, or just because they’re great people. I think everything I read has an impact on my writing in some way.
But if I had to mention at least one author, I’ll say it’s Dan Simmons. Not only are his books amazing and he’s won quite a few awards, but he’s a genuinely nice person. When I was sixteen, I learned he lives in the same area as I did, and was actually a customer where my mother worked. She knew I’d been reading his books, and arranged for him to sign my copy of The Fall of Hyperion.
I wrote a letter with the book, which looking back, was a bit rambling and very teenager-fangirl-esque. I had zero experience with authors at the time and was in awe that he’d even agree to sign my book. He did more than that, though. He wrote me a letter in return, answered my questions, and provided me with some invaluable advice about writing and publishing. At the time, I didn’t understand the true impact of his words, but years later, when I reopened that letter (yes, I still have it), I understood. And I am still grateful he took the time to respond to me at all. I truly feel that encounter set me on my current path.
P.L.: That’s a wonderful story A.J.! And Dan Simmons sounds like an amazing person! Reptilian Drakkon, the warlike and fascinating Murkors and Scorpion Men, intrepid feline-like fighters, sea serpents, and more, come to life on the pages of The Moon’s Eye. Can you tell us how you came up with some of these fascinating creatures and races, or what from where you drew inspiration to feature some of these creatures and races that aren’t your original invention?
A.J.: The different species originally came about as an experiment. I was trying to see what I could come up with that weren’t the typical elves, dwarves, etc. seen in so many fantasy series. Some were 100% my creation, whereas others were influenced by external sources.
In the original version of the series, which I wrote more than twenty years ago, the Drakkon were dragons. When I decided to rewrite the series, I made the decision to make them bipedal lizard-like people, because by that time, I’d written The Caein Legacy and I didn’t want to oversaturate my books with dragons. I mean, dragons are really cool and I love them, but sometimes it’s nice to do something a little different.
The Murkor were completely of my creation. They’re a cave-dwelling, humanoid species who are naturally nocturnal due to their sensitivity to light. They’re very private, and don’t show their faces to anyone outside their immediate families. Instead, they rely on the color of their clothing and tattoos visible on their hands to identify one another. I had a lot of fun creating their society, even though the reader doesn’t get to see much of it in the trilogy.
If you’d like to learn more about the Murkor, I wrote a novella featuring two from the series—it’s their story prior to the events of The Moon’s Eye. It’s more of a love story and not so much about the fantasy, so I don’t usually promote it, but for those interested, it’s called The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel. It’s written as a shared journal between the two characters (and that journal makes a cameo appearance in War of the Nameless.)
The Scorpion Men were inspired by a Babylonian myth that featured half-scorpion warriors who acted as the protectors of something akin to the Fountain of Youth. Those featured in my series come from a militaristic society and are well-known for their battle prowess.
On a side note, I’ve had a number of reviewers comment that the Scorpion Men reminded them of the movie The Scorpion King. Until a few weeks ago, I’d never watched the film. I decided to, just to see where the comparisons were coming from, and… There was a decided lack of half-scorpion warriors in the movie. I’ll admit, I was a bit disappointed. (laughs) I honestly don’t see the similarities myself.
P.L.: Please, please, where can I get my hands on a copy of The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel? It sounds right up my alley! The malevolent powers of The Nameless, a Satan-like figure, whose main servants are the hideous, demonic, Soulless, are the big overarching baddies of your series, and to me they were gorgeously terrifying. I love the way you write your villains in The Relics of War series. What do you think makes a good “villain” in a fantasy novel? What do you think about the Nameless and the Soulless make them compelling villains?
A.J.: Thank you! My husband’s favorite character of the series is one of said Soulless, Dranamir, so you aren’t alone in your love of the “baddies.”
I think my favorite villains are the ones that have some form of motivation behind their actions, whether it’s politics, their beliefs (even if misguided or flawed), or they believe they’re doing the right thing.
As for my villains, the Soulless are all followers of the Nameless god (who used to have a name – and you’ll learn what it was in War of the Nameless!). Their motivation stems from their desire to uphold their god’s beliefs, and on a lesser note, personal gain.
The Nameless is motivated by a desire for revenge, but also the hope he’ll regain his freedom. He doesn’t believe his imprisonment was justified, and the other gods—his siblings—wronged him.
In terms of making them compelling, that’s a more difficult phenomenon to explain. Their individual personalities just sort of happened—beyond Dranamir’s rage and blood-lust, I didn’t plan the rest of them ahead of time. This actually happens quite a bit as I write my stories, but most of the time, I’m happy with the end result. I do try to make each character unique and relatable in some way, even those as questionable as the Soulless.
P.L.: A.J., I have truly enjoyed our chat and I truly appreciate you joining me on Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!
A.J.: Thank you for chatting with me!
Buy The Moon’s Eye here
Buy The Talisman of Delucha here
Buy The War of the Nameless here