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SPFBOX Interview with M. Daniel McDowell

SPFBOX

Our SPFBOX interviews continue with M. Daniel McDowell, author of Bringer of the Scourge.

SPFBO (the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off) is a free online contest run by author Mark Lawrence. 300 authors compete across ten judging teams to see who will be the winner! You can read more about the contest here.

 

Bringer of the Scourge

INTERVIEW WITH M. DANIEL MCDOWELL

 

Tell us a little about yourself and let our readers know which blog you’ve been assigned to for SPFBOX!

 

Hi, I’m M. Daniel McDowell, ink-stained wretch, author of the ongoing series Song of the Scourgelands, the first of which, Bringer of the Scourge, is in the noble hands of the Queen’s Book Asylum! (Considering the thematic elements of this book, it feels like an apt location.)


What inspired you to write this book?

So the short answer is: the original cover!

I signed up to participate in the 2023 Inkfort Press Self-Publishing Derby and I was assigned the cover and title for this book.

As an author, one of my biggest struggles is Scope Creep. (this is perhaps self evident in that I have begun an entire series now.)

Doing the Derby allowed me to establish a book-shaped container with a very specific cover. Though I’ve changed out the typography and done some gradient map color calibration to the artwork, the image is the one which animated this character in my mind: this battle princess ready for action, with the look on her face like, you shouldn’t have messed with her.

Her Elizabethan details—the lace collar and hair cauls—and her delicate but cold smile, contrasted with this grisly Warhammer-esque armor, this glowing evil green gem in her crown, and this stance with her sword that you just know you made a huge mistake.

I fell in love with that image straightaway, and having that cover and that title created a container into which I could just start pouring new ideas until I had enough things to bring together and keep them fairly tight. If I had started with just the title or the image, and no time or budget constraints, I doubt I could have crystallized something I love so much in so short a time. I’d have ended up with a big, sprawling, and worst of all, likely unwritten, mess.

The constraints and limitations of the Derby are what inspired me to finish but it was this gorgeous stock art character, who became Vierrelyne du Talorr, who inspired me to start.

 

If you want an easy, neat, predictable, algebraic form of magic, it will not be performed in this book, or this series. It’s very much meant to be “magic as wyrd” and is not at all “magic as insufficiently distinct from technology or science.”

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing or editing process? What’s most exciting to you about writing or editing?

I draft fairly clean and I tend to finesse as I go; I write bits of things and string them together and usually in the process of stringing them I find new ideas I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I tend to refer to my method as “gardening” but really it’s more like quilting, where some elements get stitched over several times to make sure they are secure and connected!

In my other life, I am a developmental editor and I love that process as well. I love having the raw pieces of a story and figuring out the best way to connect them and give them purpose within the project. It is one of my greatest joys to help authors make their work stronger. It’s really just an ideal task, I could do that forever.


Who or what have been your major literary influences?

I have too many to name them all; I am fond of saying that this book in particular is a love letter to CL Moore, Fritz Leiber, and Glen Cook, as I feel their influences most strongly over the choices I made in this book, from characters and set-pieces to little homages here and there throughout the story. I hesitate to spell them out as I think they’re a mélange such that trying to call attention to the specifics would be tricky, but, in a nutshell, this is a love letter to classic adventure fantasy, especially its persistent weird magic and sense of place and un-place, and its characters whose spirits may be wounded by circumstance but tend to persist in spite of those circumstances, the model of heroic fantasy.


What makes your SPFBOX book unique?

A lot of people have called my book an “epic” in reviews, but it’s under 75,000 words! It’s like half a Sanderson by volume, and it does, TECHNICALLY, stand alone. I wrote it with the full intentions that you COULD close this book and walk away from the Known Lands of Derebor, and the Scourgelands beyond, and feel like you knew the whole story.

Since then, a sequel has materialized, and another is coming, but… it does end!

Also, importantly: it does not have a magic system. If you want an easy, neat, predictable, algebraic form of magic, it will not be performed in this book, or this series. It’s very much meant to be “magic as wyrd” and is not at all “magic as insufficiently distinct from technology or science.”

What is magic and what is simply the chaos of existence I leave as an exercise for the reader.


Do you have a favourite character from your SPFBOX entry? Tell us about them!

I write all of my characters with intentionality; I try, as a fan of ensemble stories, to write every character in the ensemble as if they might be someone’s favorite.

That said: On the one hand, I have three main characters and to say any of them is more favorite would hurt my soul. On the other hand: one of the side characters I originally created as a one-and-done homage—Reyser Gorum—emerged through drafting to be one of the characters with the most purpose and the strongest voice, and became the glue for a significant section of the book. The neat thing about taking that background character and winding him through my narrative is that he ended up providing material narrative strength not only to a character he bonds with, but also to a character he strongly dislikes.

In fact, the thing that caused me to change that character’s fate… was the influence of Reyser’s presence in the narrative.

 

This is a love letter to classic adventure fantasy, especially its persistent weird magic and sense of place and un-place, and its characters whose spirits may be wounded by circumstance but tend to persist in spite of those circumstances, the model of heroic fantasy.


How does your work fit into (or challenge) its genre?

My book probably only neatly fits into the category of “heroic fantasy,” which is distinct from calling it an epic because of its scope and its scale; it’s a sibling genre of sword & sorcery and has some elements of overlap on the Elric end of the s&s spectrum.

In many ways, Bringer of the Scourge is retro by design—one of the ways I have described it in passing is “Old School Revival Fantasy” or “Old School Renaissance,” because I feel like stylistically I am not similar to a lot of what is currently fashionable in the independent fantasy scene.

One of the other major influences on this book is the indie RPG Black Sword Hack, an Old School Renaissance game with a lot of the dark-princes doomed-by-design struggle against impossible odds that really makes up the core of this book, so it feels really fitting.


What do you hope readers take away from your SPFBOX entry?

I hope you enjoy it! I hope you like spending time with the strange people who have come to occupy my entire world almost entirely by accident of happenstance. I love this world and these characters and every time someone tells me they love them, it gives me a week’s sunshine in a day.


What are you currently working on?

In the editor’s chair:

Through July 20th, I am currently crowdfunding my first anthology as an editor, with my publisher, Oliver Brackenbury of New Edge Sword & Sorcery and Brackenbury Books. BEATING HEARTS & BATTLE-AXES is an anthology of romantic sword & sorcery tales from six incredible authors, with cover art by ME Morgan and interior art by Trevor Ngwenya! https://www.backerkit.com/c/projects/brackenbooks/beating-hearts-battle-axes/

I’ve just completed the publication process for the sequel to Bringer: The Shepherd in Shadow, which released on June 28th. It’s a similarly dense and strange book, with a bit more introspection and some deeper explorations of personhood after a crisis of faith, so to speak. https://books2read.com/theshepherd

Past that, I have two secret projects–a novelette and a novella–that will be out under my banners likely by the end of the year.


Bringer of the Scourge

 

To save them all, the princess must rescue herself.

Vierrelyne du Talorr, the last living daughter of the tyrant king, waits locked in a tower cell for the prophesied apocalypse only she can prevent. An army of three brittle allegiances, united under a rival prince, aims for the throne and lays siege to the castle in search of the princess and the fabled weaponry of the empire.

With the aid of her mentor in music and swords, and a desperate cultist sent to find her before the mercenaries do, Vierrelyne steals that formidable ancient weapon from her family crypt: a holy suit of armor and a diadem infused with the soul of a demon prince—the Bringer of the Scourge. With it, Vierrelyne discovers an unstoppable power, but the demon within is corrosive, hungry, and dangerously persuasive.

Vierrelyne is haunted by what it means to tame this power bequeathed to her, and by what means she might conquer it. When that rival prince finds her, it will take all the strength she can muster, for, if the dread prophecy is true, the weapons she wields may just destroy everything—and everyone—she holds dear.

 

 

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Merritt Daniel McDowell, writing as M., is an ink-stained wretch from the Rust Belt living on the East Coast of the United States, who has never gotten comfortable living so close to shore, for beyond those coastal waters, there indeed be dragons. Merritt can reliably be found in pursuit of caffeination at nearly all times of day, up to and including roughly thirty minutes before it is time for bed. Find out more at mdmcdowell.com.

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