Author Michael A. Ventrella is visiting today! His newest book out, Tales of Fortannis: A Bard in the Hand, is the second collection of short stories that take place in the world of his fantasy novels, Arch Enemies and The Axes of Evil. Read an excerpt below.
Michael is also one of the founders of the biggest fantasy medieval live action role playing groups in North America and currently runs the Alliance LARP. He is also the founder of Animato which, in the late 80s, was the first major magazine dedicated to animated films. He has been quoted as an animation expert in Entertainment Weekly and in various books. At his website’s blog he interviews other authors, editors, agents and publishers to get advice for the starting author. In his spare time, he is a lawyer.
Michael, tell us about your new release
Tales of Fortannis: A Bard in the Hand is the second collection of short stories that take place in the world of my novels. It’s great fun seeing how other writers play in my sandbox. They all bring different styles to my world.
Fortannis is a fantasy world with a few surprises. The connecting theme of the anthologies is the world, but there are many stories that can be told in that world. Don’t expect to just find your traditional fantasy stories here. There are comedic adventurers, a murder mystery, a political tale, and more. I avoid cliched stereotypical fantasy stories, as readers of my novels certainly know.
What was your first sale as an author?
Well, I’ve written magazine articles, self-published a rule book for a game, and founded and edited a magazine about animated films called Animato! that was quite popular in the late 80s and early 90s.
My first fiction sale though was my first novel Arch Enemies. I was happy that the first book I ever wrote was good enough to be published (and it’s available from Double Dragon Press in every format you’d ever want).
You know those fantasy stories where there is a prophecy that the Chosen One will be found who will Save The Day because he has Super Powers or The Force or whatever? Well, that’s in Arch Enemies – except they get the wrong guy. The main character is a boy who is thrown into the adventure because everyone thinks he’s the hero, when in reality he has no special powers or skills whatsoever. The bad guys are trying to kill him to stop the prophecy from coming true, and the good guys are also trying to kill him because they’ve been controlled by the bad guys – so with the help of two squires who try to protect him, he has to try to Save The Day so everyone will leave him alone!
Reviewers have commented on the huge twist at the end that ties everything together, and it does end happily – he doesn’t become the greatest swordsman in the land or the most powerful wizard, but he does figure out how to Save The Day in his own way.
What is the hardest part of writing your books?
Finding the time. I am an attorney; I run a nationwide live action role-playing game; I volunteer with my local Democratic party; I write a political blog; I interview authors, editors, and agents on my writing blog; and sometimes I sleep.
How do you describe your writing style?
Humorous adventure, with twists and turns. I like cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, and surprises along the way. While the story itself is very serious (people die!), the characters themselves can make witty comments about their adventure and otherwise have real personality – real people aren’t always serious, and I dislike reading stories where everyone is constantly brooding and no one ever makes a joke.
What do you think makes a good story?
Characters. Too many starting writers come up with a plot or a twist, and forget that if you don’t find the characters interesting, it all means nothing. Note that I said ‘interesting’ and not ‘likeable.’ You can certainly have unlikable characters that are very interesting.
Stories are not about what they are about – they are about the characters. And if the characters aren’t changed by the end of the story, they are not believable.
Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?
I have lots, and that’s the theme of my blog: Aspiring Writers Unite! Learn From My Mistakes (And Advice From the Experts). I use the blog to discuss what lessons I learned the hard way, so you won’t make the same mistakes. Then I interview established writers, editors, and agents to get their advice as well. Please check it out – I’ll bet there will be something there for you. (If nothing else, you may like the interviews with authors you’ve probably read!).
Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?
Write what you love. Don’t write for the market. If you don’t love what you’re writing, how can you expect anyone else to? I always try to write the book (or story) that I’d like to read. While my sales haven’t been astronomical, they are constant, and the emails I get from readers who enjoyed the books are very rewarding. I know I’m doing the right thing!
Beatles or Monkees? Why?
You sure have some interesting questions. I’m old enough that the Monkees were on TV when I was a kid, and so that was my show. I wanted to grow up and be in a band like that, so I started teaching myself guitar and piano and writing songs. Later, when I was maybe 12, I got the Beatles “Let it Be” album and said “Hey, these guys are better than the Monkees.” I became a Beatles fanatic and still attend Beatles conventions to this day. I have an entire shelf at home full of books about the Beatles.
I eventually did have a number of bands, wrote some pretty good songs, played in major clubs, and even recorded a single, but nothing happened with it. As with all creative arts (music, acting, writing …) sometimes talent isn’t enough. Hey, I blogged about that very subject here.
By the way, I still have my Monkees CDs too.
Entice us, what future projects are you considering?
I have just finished a novel about a vampire who runs for President. I was intrigued by the idea of a politician who could charm anyone to do his bidding, and who had no moral qualms about killing those who got in the way. I made him a good guy though – he sincerely wants to do good for people, but he sees humanity in the long term. He wants to bring peace and democracy to the world, and if a few people have to die along the way, so be it … the ends justify the means. And, of course, no one believes in vampires so he can get away with a lot.
The hero of the story is the reporter who gets framed for the attempted assassination of the candidate. He is forced to go into hiding, and the only way he can prove his innocence is by proving that vampires exist – while he’s on the run from the FBI and the vampires themselves who want to keep their secret. I’m shopping it around now.
Then I am researching Teddy Roosevelt. I have an idea for a steampunk adventure …
Connect with Michael
Excerpt from Michael’s story The Mystery of the Black-Bearded Dwarf from Tales of Fortannis: A Bard in the Hand
I dropped the hardboiled egg. It rolled across the uneven floor. The cats in the room took an immediate interest.
“Squire Terin! We need yer assistance!”
Rendal and Darlissa gave me sideways glances. As my senior squires, they sometimes had a problem hiding their frustration that my fame caused Ashbans everywhere to seek me out instead of them.
“Who was murdered?” Dar asked.
The stout dwarf with the long black braided beard spread his hands. “Orit! They killed him, the bastards!” He glared at a white-bearded dwarf sitting at a nearby table. The white-bearded dwarf returned the look and added a rude gesture.
With a nod to my fellow squires, I jumped from the table and followed the black-bearded dwarf out of the hall and into the center of the rustic camp. Dwarven King Kelanor declared this neutral place as the perfect site for the peace talks, but now that we were here, without town guards, a sheriff, or a magistrate, the wisdom of that decision was questionable.
“This way!” the dwarf encouraged us.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Myrok Coalbeard of the Blackaxes,” he replied over his shoulder. He slowed down, and then stopped to face us. Ahead, a crowd of dwarves gathered around a small cabin, their voices rising in the brisk morning air.
“Listen, I know yer all new here,” Myrok said, “but ye need to keep an eye on anyone who ain’t got no black beard. They’re all against us, and they all hated Orit.”
I sighed. This wasn’t going to be easy.
I had noticed on my last trip to Dwarvenholm that many dwarves dyed their beards; I had only recently learned it was to denote their individual families—families with grudges going back generations. Of course Myrok would tell me to not trust anyone else.
The pause allowed the crowd to grow, which blocked our way. I stared over their heads—they were all dwarves, after all—and tried to see into the building.
“Let us through!” Dar cried over the angry voices and a loud howling. No one paid any attention.
Ren shook his head and pushed forward. With muscles to match any strong dwarf, and a foot or so reach beyond that, he managed to part a path like an ox plowing through a snow bank.
“Everybody out of the area!” Ren yelled as he approached the small cabin.
“And who are you to order us about?” bellowed one extremely inebriated red-bearded dwarf.
“I am a squire of the Duke, and can have any one of you arrested,” Ren replied calmly.
The dwarf angrily opened his mouth but then his eyes fell to Ren’s biceps. He made a slight clucking sound and backed away.
Ren pushed forward toward the building, and we followed. Two large black-bearded dwarves stood in the doorway, holding back dwarves with beards of white, brown, or red trying to enter.
“Ye won’t pin this on us!” yelled one red-beard.
“Ye probably killed him yerself!” shouted another.
The door guards noticed us and their eyebrows raised. We certainly didn’t fit in—a large dark-skinned warrior in thick leather armor, a biata woman whose feathery eyebrows flared in the breeze, and me—a skinny young lad with hair falling in his eyes. Our ducal tabards and red belts indicated our status as squires—knights in training—and they parted to let us by. The door slammed shut behind us, which muted the yelling outside a bit.
A dozen fat candles lit the room, but could not cover the stench of death. A somber deer head hung over an unlit fire, and shutters were open to let in the morning air. Crude furniture fit the “hunting cabin” décor. A large gray dog howled in a corner.
Two black-bearded dwarves stood by the large bed where the victim lay in a pool of blood. Orit’s head was twisted to one side, displaying the huge gash that ended his life.
“We found him like this,” said a female voice.
I blinked. With those beards, I often had trouble telling the women from the men. She apparently didn’t notice.
Dar bowed her head slightly. “I am Squire Darlissa Corak. This is Squire Rendal Smith and Squire Terin Ostler. We are squires of the Duke, and have been sent here to aid in the negotiations over—”
“We know,” said the male dwarf, “but this is more important!”
“Of course,” Dar said. “And you are?”
“I am Cretes, and this is Gardly,” he said.
Gardly held up a knife. “We found this.”
Ren took it from her and held it for us to see. The blade was covered in blood, some of which had already dried. But it was the handle that attracted our attention—ivory carving of such intricate design that it could only be dwarven made.
“Was this his knife?” I asked.
Gardly shook her head. “Never seen it afore today.”
“Don’t tell anyone about it,” I said. “It may help us find the murderer.”
The two dwarves nodded their agreement.
Dar knew healing magic to a degree I could not yet match. Although it was plainly obvious that Orit was dead—the fact that his head was almost completely removed from his neck was a pretty sure sign—she leaned over and looked closely at the wound, and then Orit’s eyes.
I turned away from the gruesome sight and allowed her to continue her inspection. “Who found him?”
“We did,” Cretes said. “I came t’ wake him this morn—will ye shut up?”
The dog curled its tail between its legs, flattened its ears, and sat down as if trying to make itself as small and unnoticeable as possible. The howling, however, stopped.
Cretes cursed. “Never liked that mutt. Anyway, we came t’ wake him but the door was locked. He didn’t answer, but the dog was howlin’ somethin’ fierce, and so I kinda broke the door down.”
Dar looked up. “Wait, the door was locked?”