Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Frankie Stevens: a fresh new voice in fantasy

Greetings, commies!
Today I am pleased to host a passionate, imaginative and refreshingly humble young author Frankie Stevens whose debut novel whose debut novel The Divine Spark was recently released via Mythos Press, an imprint of Ravenswood Publishing.  What makes this novel stand apart is the bold fusion of modern technology and medieval esthetics.  Writing a 300+ page debut novel is like giving birth to an 11 lbs baby. Thank you for joining us, Frankie.

MJN: Allow me to begin by saying that I absolutely love the cover.  Renaissance Faire meets Cirque du Soleil.  Watercolor made to look like stain glass.  Did you have any input into the cover design?  And I see that your trailer features drawings as well.  Are they done by the same artist?  

FS: The cover art was done by Joshua Altobelli. He went to the same school as my sister (UMass Dartmouth) where they both studied art and design. He currently draws a web comic called Zheph Skyre and would do a commission if you ask him nicely ( The thing is, I like to draw/illustrate as well. However, I did not go to art school nor do I know my way around a tablet pen or the more advanced aspects of Photoshop. I like to draw using old fashioned colored pencils and pen like I always have. However, I wanted the cover to show my vision of the main characters as well as the je ne sai quoi that art students and others who take art more seriously give to cover designs. I sent him sketches and ideas for the cover and he went from there.

What you see in the preview is some of my drawings and some of Josh’s. Josh did the sketches of the monster, the asterisk (based on a drawing I sent him) and the cover design of course. I drew and colored the rest of them. There are many more where that came from but many of the illustrations depict parts of the book that I’ve had to cut out for word constraints and for them having little bearing on the overall plot, even if they did further character development. I will eventually get around to scanning them in and putting them on my website.

MJN: Most fantasy realms are rooted in some sort of ethnic mythology. For instance, The Lord of the Rings is heavily Norse. Does the setting for Divine Spark echo back to any ethnic tradition?

FS: I’ve taken inspiration from all sorts of sources, which is to say that the Outer Universe is a realm of my own making. I wanted the magic, hocus-pocus and certain medieval aspects to be there but I also chose to make the land of Vitalia thoroughly modern, with things like electricity and their version of the car. Their technology is powered by renewable or animal energy. It’s a win-win situation for them. By powering their infrastructure on star power, ravens or good old fashioned foot power, the wizards conserve their magic for other uses and they are following their spiritual beliefs, which dictate that they should share their space with nature and not totally dominate it.

The Vitalians can worship their own personal deity of their choosing since it is a nation made up of immigrants but anyone who doesn’t choose to be secular is encouraged to honor and revere the Great Lord and Lady, who are the source of all life. This and their tradition of the Wheel of the Year are based around Wiccan/Neopagan tradition. Although these religions are under a century old, they are loosely based on the pre-Christian belief system of parts of Europe. The Wheel of the Year includes eight “sabbats” (holidays) that coincide the beginning or midpoint of each season. I have taken the liberty of making some aspects of their religion different from Wicca/Neopagan such as changing the names. Each holiday marks things such as the harvest and the life cycle of their sun Zsorvan, who is the “son” of the Lord and Lady. The cycles of their moon and her (yes, her) ability to influence magic are of equal importance and Vitalians hold meetings under her known as esbats.

As for the Kakaanian culture, I have made it so that they are at a stage of development where they are sedentary and practice horticulture but they still hunt for their own food. In that way, they are like certain Native American tribes that lived in the northeastern United States before the arrival of the Europeans. I’ve managed to add in some medieval European themes like dragons but I have also added my own twist to them: There are fire-breathing dragons but there are also earth, air and water-breathing dragons.

MJN: What's in a name?  The antagonist in your novel is named Sardonicus.  That's a very telling name.  I'm still trying to put my finger on Ablias.  It almost sounds like Oblivion.  What is the story behind his name?

FS: Oddly enough, I have a much longer explanation for the antagonist’s name than the protagonist’s name. I originally wanted to give him the last name of Sardonicus but my good friend Dave suggested that maybe I should put that as his title instead, like the tsar. Since people in Sardonica have a tradition of naming their children after rocks or gemstones, I gave him the name Mafic since he stands for the darkness and mafic rock is typically dark in color. 

As for the nation he rules, I take it from the word “sardonic,” which means “grimly mocking or cynical.” Here is where I get political. While Vitalia is meant to represent everything right with America such as diversity, freedom of speech and our abundance of wildlife areas, Sardonica represents everything wrong with America, such as our resource gluttony, wealth inequality and a corrupt judicial system that punishes people based on aspects that they cannot change (like ethnicity). Considering the nation’s name, it is meant to be an exaggerated version of what it’s like in America today. So relax, people. I still like my country despite these things. 

Ablias’ name was one I made up on the spot. I figured that it sounded mystical and wizard-like. It wasn’t until later that I realized that it sounded like the first name of Dumbledore from Harry Potter. Whatever. I’m not changing it now. From there, I made it so that other Kakaanian-derived boys’ names had “as” at the end, although not all of them do.

MJN: As a fantasy author, how do you differentiate yourself from the giants of the genre?  Any time you get an innocent wide-eyed boy hero, it's hard not to compare him to Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter.  The world is a little Pottered out.  Because you are dealing with archetypical figures, characters of that stock are going to have a lot in common.  You just cannot avoid the Frodos and the Harrys of the literary pantheon melting into one. And yet, there must be some finishing touches that set your protagonist apart from his predecessors.  What sets Ablias apart?

FS: Many fantasy heroes come from humble beginnings and are then whisked off into adventure or told that they are the chosen one of some prophecy. The first Polarity Breach book begins with the main character already knowing that he is going to be Grand Sorcerer one day. He was also born into money and privilege. However, just because you are born into royalty does not mean that you do not have personal issues. Even though he did not earn his position through hard work, he did earn it by having all of his older siblings killed in front of his own eyes and that can shake up a little kid quite a bit. Also, most of the time, being rich equates to being in a position of authority, which in turn requires responsibility. You have to make sure not to royally (pun intended) screw up or let the power go to your head. Ablias isn’t so sure he can do that and he has to come to terms with his future.

On that note, a man whose title is given to him through divine right still wants to assure himself that he has at least some control over his future. He listens more to his interests than to what tradition dictates. He does not want to practice battle magic like the previous Grand Sorcerers did. He wants to heal because he deems that it is more practical to fix what has been broken. Although he wants to appeal to his father, the only other royal relative left, he also wants to make his own decisions. And really, isn’t that what growing up is all about? Don’t the people of my generation want to get a “real job” one day and not live under their parents’ thumb?

MJN: On your Amazon page, you humbly refer to your writing as a "hobby". It's refreshing. Most authors, even those who are still waiting for their first contract offer, refer to their writing in more exalted terms. Clearly, you wrote 300+ page novel. I have a feeling it's more than just a hobby. What are your plans for the future?

FS: As a recent grad student with no source of income as of this writing, I am hoping to get a “real job.” At first I wanted a job in writing, which was my major in undergrad but then I realized that I would rather use this talent creatively for side projects. What I want to work in is Library and Information Science and I am hoping to get a job either in a library or an archive. Although I have written a 300-page novel, I figured that I wouldn’t sell that many copies right away. 

I’m new in the publishing game. I have been doing most of my own publicity, which is quite the learning experience. The good thing about the internet and social media is that you can post anything for the world to see. However, you have to go to great lengths to get yourself noticed over the noise of the other recently-published authors. 

Even if I do become famous and I am given every reason to quit my day job, I would still like to volunteer in a library or an archive. In a world where everything costs something, it is refreshing to have a place like the library where you can check out books for free. As for the archive, I have an interest in being an archivist because using documents or artifacts to put together the puzzle that is human history gives us a glance of who we are and where we are going. If all of that is destroyed, we are plunged into the darkness that is ignorance. That is the evil force that the characters of my series are fighting against. In that way, archivists are guardians. At the same time, I would also be contributing to some sort of archive by writing.

 Here is a picture of Frankie with her porcelain skin, dazzling smile and lush chestnut locks.  Thank you for joining us, and please keep us posted of your literary projects.

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