Today we welcome Stephen Morris to Indie Author Friday. Stephen shares some thought-provoking writerly advice about villains, and mentions a cookie blend I’ve never heard of – but am excited to try.
“Libahunt!” Alexei breaks the terms of the wolf-magic he inherited from his grandfather and loses the ability to control the shapeshifting, becoming a killer and slaughtering his neighbors, his friends — even his family. His grandfather’s magical wolf-pelt was meant to protect their rural village in 1880s Estonia by fighting the terrible storms in the sky that could devastate the farms and fields but instead it drives Alexei to kill with impunity. Heartbroken at what he has become, Alexei flees his home and wanders through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Bohemia. He encounters the Master of Wolves who forces him to terrorize local farmers and the infamous Frau Bertha with her belt of sailor-skin to trap those who anger her in the form of wolves. Dare he hope to ever find an enchanter who can free him from the curse?
Witchcraft! Ghosts! Vampires! Tarot cards!
An old crone is bound to a stake in the Old Town Square of Prague and consumed by flames in 1356, her vengeful words setting in motion a series of dark events that unfold across the centuries, culminating in the historic flood of August 2002 that threatens to destroy the city.
The trilogy alternates chapters set in medieval Prague and contemporary Prague (summer 2002). The chapters set in 1356-1357 incorporate a number of local Prague folktales and legends. These 1356 events alert Nadezhda that something very wrong indeed is afoot in Prague. Together with an elderly rabbi from Prague’s famous Jewish Quarter, she sets out to avert the impending disaster.
In the summer of 2002, two academics attending a conference at the university – a Jesuit priest and a beautiful Irish professor (who is also a voracious Irish vampire, known as the Dearg-due) – develop their own nefarious agendas. To access the enormous potential power to which the dead witch holds the key, they dupe a secretary into helping destroy the city by unravelling the protective magic built into the Charles Bridge itself that has defended the city since its construction. A small group of academics at that same university conference discover the threat and are forced by circumstances to practice the folk magic they have previously merely researched. Drawing on the power of the Tarot, always especially associated with Prague, they battle the Jesuit, the Dearg-due, the unwitting secretary and the forces of evil that threaten to destroy the city. The academics realize that once free, these forces will unleash a dark power that could undermine all of western civilization. The final confrontation occurs as the historic flood of Prague in 2002 is conjured to destroy the magical Charles Bridge which has protected the city for centuries.
What’s the most constructive criticism you’ve been given in your writing career?
One of the best things the editor of my first book(s) told me was, “Don’t promise something that you aren’t going to deliver.” She meant, don’t introduce the Bad Guy doing something worse than anything else he’s going to do later in the book. If he doesn’t murder anyone later, the reader won’t be disappointed unless you’ve introduced the Bad Guy in an act of murder, implying that there will be more to come. This piece of wisdom has really made me aware both of what I promise readers and what I—as a reader—have been promised by other authors. I realize now why I’ve been so very disappointed by certain characters in other authors’ books is because they promise something about a character that they ultimately don’t deliver.
What are your favorite books in your genre?
My favorites? Where to begin?! I think that Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series and both of Kate Griffin’s Midnight Mayor and Magicals Anonymous series are my favorites. Very different. But exquisite. Butcher plays with folklore—especially Celtic folklore and legend—and reinterprets it in a modern context. Griffin paints the most amazing word-pictures of London and the manipulation of magical forces. Breathtaking.
If you could tell your younger-writing-self anything, what would it be?
To not be afraid of imperfection. I avoided fiction writing for years (decades, really) because I did not think I could write convincing, or even semi-convincing, dialogue. I stuck to non-fiction. Exclusively. But then a friend dared me to write a short story and submit it to an anthology—and the editor bought it! Now, I realize that original short story was far from Great Art, but it demonstrated to me that my dialogue was at least passable. I hadn’t needed to be so afraid of writing fiction. That might have changed my life in ways that I can’t now imagine.
What’s your favorite kind of cookie and why?
A butterscotch chip peanut butter cookie—it’s chewy and very sweet, combining my favorite flavors of butterscotch and crunchy peanut butter all in one bite! You also get both the crunch of the cookie and the slowly melting chip to savor, a great combination of textures as well. I’m getting hungry… Excuse me, but I think I need to go raid the cookie jar RIGHT NOW!
Book you’d want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?
Once I was being interviewed and was asked, “What three books would you want to be saved if the apocalypse struck the earth tomorrow?” I forget the first two books I selected but the third was Dracula by Bram Stoker. When I first read Dracula in high school, it opened my eyes to what letter-writing could really be about, i.e. so much more than a simple recitation of daily activities. Sharing dreams and hopes and nightmares. Exposing yourself. Vulnerability.
If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be?
Hmmm… I think Ebenezer Scrooge, who is delightfully wicked and selfish yet redeemed in the end. He gets the best of both worlds. He is the Bad Guy we love to hate and he becomes the well-beloved hero who saves Tiny Tim and the rest of the Cratchit family. If poor old Ebenezer can remember who he really is under the accumulated rebukes the world has heaped on him and be saved, than any of us can do the same!
Stephen has degrees in medieval history and theology from Yale and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Academy. A former priest, he served as the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at Columbia University. His previous academic writing has dealt primarily with Late Antiquity and Byzantine church life.
He is also the senior Project Leader of Inter-disciplinary.net and organizes annual conferences on aspects of the supernatural, evil and wickedness, and related subjects. It was an I-D.net project that took him to Prague for the first time in 2001 and he immediately fell in love with the city! He has been back many, MANY times!
Stephen, a Seattle native, is now a long-time New York resident and currently lives in Manhattan with his partner, Elliot.