Michael A. Ventrella’s fantasy novels ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL were released from Double Dragon Press to critical acclaim. His third novel BLOODSUCKERS: A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT was released in 2014. He is editor of the “Tales from Fortannis” anthologies A BARD IN THE HAND and A BARD’S EYE VIEW. The third anthology, A BARD DAY’S KNIGHT, is coming out in March 2015.
Michael, how did the world of Fortannis come about? How much of it was your own creation?
Fortannis is based on the fantasy world of the live-action roleplaying game I helped to create way back in 1989. (See www.AllianceLARP.com) The game currently has chapters all over the United States and Canada and you can download my Rule Book for free!
Anyway, while I am the owner of the game, I cannot take full credit for creating the entire world (or even the name Fortannis); however, as the guy in charge, I approved everything so in that sense I’m responsible.
When I started my first novel ARCH ENEMIES I decided to have it take place in Ashbury (the location of one of the games) because I would not have to create the world, the lands, the history, and everything anew. This made the novel much deeper and full. All fantasy novels should have fully developed backgrounds.
At the same time, I completely ignored the rules of the game. I created new magic that doesn’t exist in the game because I needed it for the plot. If I wanted my character to cast a specific magic spell in order to move the plot along, I didn’t care whether in the game world he would have had to have been a “higher level” with more “experience points.” I didn’t want people to feel like they were reading a transcript of a gaming experience. (And, just to be clear, it isn’t – my readers have told me that they cannot tell it is based on a game, and that’s exactly what I want.)
I don’t think I knew it was from a game when I read ARCH ENEMIES and I wouldn’t have known by reading it. What’s your newest short story in the Fortannis anthology about?
Terin is the main character of my Fortannis novels. He’s a normal teenager who wants to be a bard. In ARCH ENEMIES, He gets grabbed and told that he’s the Chosen One who must somehow save the day. However, he isn’t. Everyone just thinks he is. He gets thrown into the adventure against his will and has to try to save the day in order to save his own skin because there are a lot of bad guys trying to stop him (including people he thought were the good guys).
There is a twist ending (as there is in all of my Fortannis stories) and I am always pleased when people didn’t it see coming.
The third Fortannis short story collection A BARD DAY’S KNIGHT features Terin deciding to help a farmer’s kid who has been forced into an honor combat to save his family. Terin decides to impersonate the kid to help him and to fight the combat in his stead, using the few spells he knows, figuring he should be able to easily beat some other farmer kid. However, things don’t go as planned …
Are there more Fortannis stories in the works? Perhaps even a full length novel from you?
ARCH ENEMIES and its sequel THE AXES OF EVIL were well received but didn’t sell that well. If they had, I would continue to write stories in that world, because I really like the characters. I enjoy bringing them back for the short stories in the Fortannis anthologies.
But I still want to write my “breakout novel” – and no publisher wants to look at the third book in a series that didn’t sell too well. So instead, I am trying new things. My last novel BLOODSUCKERS: A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT did better than the Fortannis books but still isn’t a best-seller. Now I’m working on a steampunk novel about Teddy Roosevelt.
I also am working on an anthology of “Alternate Sherlock” stories, co-editing it with New York Times Bestselling Author Jonathan Maberry. My agent is shopping this around now and we may have a deal with a major publisher soon. If that happens, that will take a lot of my time.
If I get successful, perhaps I can convince my new publisher to buy the rights for the Fortannis novels and release them and then I could do more. But for now, I’m trying new things.
That’s too bad. I’d love to find out what’s going on with Duke Frost. It feels like a “series finale.” Do you have an endgame in mind for Terin’s story?
I’d love to write that some day. Maybe I’ll take my ideas and turn them into a short story for the 4th Fortannis anthology so I can resolve that unfinished business.
I hope that would be bigger than just a short story! He is in charge of the kingdom after all. Your most recently published book was BLOODSUCKERS, an urban fantasy story about a vampire running for President. Is there any possibility of a sequel? I’m still dying to see Vampire Jesus (not to be confused with Zombie Jesus from Futurama)!
I am not anxious to do a sequel here because of the same reasons I stated above. If I did a sequel it would have Hannah as the main character. Terrorists are attacking the US and Europe and President Mark is using his power to fight them and get allies on his side. Hannah meanwhile is trying to convince Steve that he was helping Mark and that Mark was behind these terrorist attacks as a way for him to build more power for himself. I have the outline ready. I just need the reason to write it, and at the present time I am more concerned and interested in my Teddy Roosevelt steampunk idea.
As for Vampire Jesus (in case anyone reading this is going ‘WTF?’) – one of the vampires in BLOODSUCKERS says that Jesus was a good vampire. “He used his powers to help people and convince them they had seen miracles. They crucified him but that didn’t kill him of course. Then they threw his body into a cave and three days later when they went to get him, they couldn’t find him because who notices a bat flying out of a cave? He reforms and talks to his followers and they think it’s another miracle and then he helps form the Catholic Church. You’d think people would figure this out when they do that ritual where they pretend to be drinking Jesus’ blood and eating his flesh…”
There, now you know the story so there’s no need to write it.
Seriously, it might be fun to write that someday but I have so many other stories I want to tell.
A Vampire Jesus story might be too controversial to print anyway. But who knows these days.
Are you kidding? That would be great. The publicity would help sell the book. But honestly I doubt it would attract that much attention; I’ve read other books more controversial than that and they get no attention.
I’d like to ask some general questions about writing…
What’s your writing routine? Where do you write? What do you listen to?
I have a full time job that takes a lot of time (I’m a lawyer). I run an international game. I volunteer with my local Democratic political party and act as their parliamentarian. I run the Pocono Writers Group. I write a daily political blog (www.VentrellaQuest.com). I volunteer with my local Bar Association to help students. And sometimes I sleep.
So sadly I don’t get to write as much as I would like to if I were independently wealthy. Mostly I have to force myself to do so, by saying “You can’t relax and watch TV until you get at least 500 words written tonight” or “No playing computer games until this chapter is finished.” It’s a matter of discipline and it’s not easy. That’s why it’s three years between novels for me.
I don’t listen to anything. I write in silence.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
It’s hard to give one piece of advice. My writing blog is called “Aspiring Writers Unite! Learn from My Mistakes!” and I give lots of advice there as well as interview other authors and get their advice.
I guess if I had to give advice and narrow it down to one piece it would be to research everything before you act. In other words, don’t go writing until you know what you’re doing and what you’re getting into.
How long did it take you to get published?
Well, I’ve been published many times over the years for non-fiction. I wrote a column for the Allston-Brighton paper up in Boston and started a magazine about animation called Animato! in the 80s. I had magazine articles published in Dragon Magazine and other small magazines.
My first fiction publication was ARCH ENEMIES. It was the first novel I had written but obviously not the first thing I had written. (Remember, all writing will give you experience.)
What was the first story you wrote? Did you finish it? Was it published?
Back in the 80s I wrote a couple of short stories that I sent off to the Science Fiction magazines like Asimov’s but they were both rejected. I found them recently and they definitely deserved to be rejected. The ideas were good but the writing wasn’t. Then life happened and I got too busy with that LARP game and it wasn’t until ten years or so ago that things slowed down more for me (as I have taken more of a supervisory role for the game) that I decided I wanted to try writing again. This time I had more experience and more success.
How much do you interact with your audience?
A lot. I post on Facebook all the time, keep my blog active, answer emails, and go to conventions where I am on panels to discuss writing. I think that’s very important. Plus I have a huge ego so I love it.
How important is having a social media presence?
Vital today. Agents and publishers look to that, because you are expected to promote yourself. At the same time, you need to not turn every post into a “Buy My Book!” or people will ignore you. (I’ve set “ignore” on some authors who do just that.) You have to give them something to read that is entertaining. If they like what you’re writing on your blog and on Facebook, they might say “Hmm, I like this so I will probably like his book, too.”) I wrote about effective social media on my blog here: http://michaelaventrella.com/2014/09/08/social-media-promotion-without-being-obnoxious/
I can’t stand authors who constantly push their wares on people like that. What’s your favorite work of your own?
I think BLOODSUCKERS is my best work so far. It’s concise and funny, the action moves quickly, there are unexpected twists and turns, and the writing is the best I’ve done (I think).
Well, hey, you’ve read my work. What do you think?
I think BLOODSUCKERS was the best one overall, but I did really enjoy the story of ARCH ENEMIES. Particularly the third act. Fantasy will always trump Urban Fantasy for me. I’d love to see a proper Terin full length novel again one day. What do you think is your greatest strength as a writer?
I am a story guy; I like twists, surprises, and plots that go off in directions you don’t expect. I think I’m pretty good at that.
At the same time, I know that stories are about characters, so the best plot twist in the world won’t make a bit of difference if no one cares about your characters. I try very hard to avoid clichéd characters. I want them to be believable, with faults and flaws and quirks that make them real.
I enjoy the sense of humor your characters usually display. What’s your ultimate goal as a writer? What’s your measure of success?
Well, the ultimate measure of any creative person’s success is to be able to make a living at your art, I would think. I’m not talking about being a millionaire, but if I could make enough people happy with my writing that I could live on the income, I think I would consider that successful. Maybe 1% of all artists/ actors/ musicians/ writers can do that.
Do you have a dream project or ultimate story you want to tell one day?
Nope! That was easy.
And now I’d like to ask some random non-writer questions… What are your favorite movies?
Where I can admire a well-made dramatic film like Schindler’s List or Apocalypse Now, my favorite films are fun ones that I can re-watch many times and still enjoy. So I’d go with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Princess Bride, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and things like that. With my background in animation, I also love animated films whose sole purpose is to entertain: The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wallace and Gromit, even Frozen. It’s hard to come up with a short list, because if I started listing them all, this would go on a long time…
Great choices. Wallace and Gromit are very underappreciated here in the States. Damn Colonials. What are your favorite recent TV shows?
I don’t watch a lot of TV really, but I always watch The Daily Show (No, Jon! Don’t go!) and John Oliver’s new show. The only other shows I really pay attention to right now are Gotham and Agent Carter.
I love all those shows, though I don’t get HBO anymore so I’m sadly missing out on John Oliver. What are your favorite books?
Many, of course, but if I had to name just a few, I’d say THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY would be near the top. I wish I could write as well as Douglas Adams. I still like to re-read Charles Dickens every now and then. Larry Niven amazes me; there was a time when I had read every single book and short story he had written. Sometimes I like to re-read ALICE IN WONDERLAND for the sheer joy of it. I recently re-read HUCKELBERRY FINN and admired Twain’s work again.I think I’ve read the HARRY POTTER books more than twice. I also enjoy Neil Gaiman, James Hogan, Tim Powers, Orson Scott Card, Christopher Moore, Tad Williams, Jonathan Maberry… I’ll stop now before I write a book about books I like.
I read the first three HHGTTG books endlessly when I was younger. What sort of music do you listen to?
I like intelligent pop music: Beatles, XTC, Elvis Costello … And I would write songs like that with my old bands The Naughty Bits and Agent 99. (Samples on my YouTube page here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfHXKPZeVA5mzwlahwUyUuw
And finally, and perhaps most importantly… Star Wars: pro or con?
I think the three Star Wars movies are tremendous fun and I’m old enough to have first seen them in the theaters the weeks they were released. I think I’ve seen them all a dozen times or so since then. THOSE ARE THE ONLY THREE STAR WARS MOVIES THAT EXIST. THERE ARE NO OTHER STAR WARS MOVIES. NONE.
As an Official Prequel Apologist I’ll have to sadly disagree with you on that one, but I do agree with every criticism about them! Thank you for your time, Michael! Check out Michael’s website at http://michaelaventrella.com/