Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Steven Montano: shaking up the genres

An independent author interview

Most authors strive to stay within a genre, occasionally mixing horror with romance or science fiction with mystery and throwing in a love interest for good measure. I've never before come across an author who aggressively tosses as many different genres into the mix as Steven Montano, whose Blood Skies series mixes military science fiction, war, occult horror, modern vampires and witchcraft, and animates the mix with supernatural energy. I had to ask him about it.

Steve Montano has published five novels, two short stories and a novella, all set in his fantastic, futuristic and horrific future timeline called Blood Skies, or the World After the Black; he released his latest, Book Five in the series, The Witch’s Eye, just last week (launched on this blog, among others), and he’s hard at work on completing the projected seven-novel cycle.

It’s a demanding self-imposed challenge for a man who is also a full-time professional accountant, a husband and a father of two. On top of that, he blogs regularly and maintains a presence on all the social media.

I had to find out more about his creations and his creative process.

Blood Skies is set in a post-apocalyptic world, but the apocalypse is different from any other I have read: a change in the physical laws that lets magic work and makes once-imaginary creatures like vampires and warlocks real. What was the inspiration for this unique, dark vision?

The idea originally began as a steampunk vampire novel, but I quickly grew tired of trying to write steampunk and instead searched for a way to make it so I could write an “anything goes” world and have it seem believable. Since the single most dramatic change I could think of in regards to how the world worked involved the presence of magic, I started with the notion of a magical apocalypse, and just built on that. I’ve enjoyed developing the setting, as it basically allows me to include whatever “real world” elements I want and just make up the rest.


Is there any aspect of your world that you hope readers will recognize in the current one? In other words, are you sounding a warning about anything in particular, or is this just whimsy, total imagination?

I use real-world war events and military history as inspiration for some of the horrors depicted in Blood Skies, and the way that magic is simultaneously feared and relied upon could probably serve as a sort of metaphor for nuclear power, but for the most part I try to play things straight. Maintaining some semblance of realism is important — perhaps even more important when dealing with an entirely fantastical world — so even though my stories deal with vampires and magic and fictional civilizations, I try to keep the characters and the way they behave in their insane surroundings grounded in reality.


Your books feature a lot of characters, and are told from multiple points of view. Tell us more about your favourite characters.

That’s difficult, because I’m fond of all of my characters (even the secondary ones) in some form or another. Eric Cross has always been the primary protagonist in the series, but it seems that in every book I come up with a new character I’m partial to, which is usually why I end up extending the narrative and making it so I can tell some of the story from their POV. Danica Black, a former prison warden turned mercenary, has always been compelling to me because she’s more of an anti-hero than Eric, and she comes across as heartless even though she struggles with a dark and tragic past. Mike Kane, a prisoner turned soldier, is a relentless smart-ass who blends heroism with comic relief. Ronan, a swordsman and former assassin, is my “hitman with a heart of gold” character, whose incredibly warped sense of the world is put to the test in The Witch’s Eye when he inadvertently finds himself in the unlikely position of holding what’s left the team together once they’ve all scattered to the wind.

Do you base your characters on real people in your life? If so, are you one of them?

I don’t make my characters exact duplicates of anyone I know in real life, but of course I take aspects of different people’s personalities and blend them into these fictional people. It’s safer that way…if I tell someone I based a character on them, I have to listen to how I got them all wrong. ;D

There’s no question Eric is the most like me (poor guy), but even he and I have our differences. Many of Cross’s insecurities bear a striking resemblance to my own, and he’s the easiest for me to write in terms of knowing how he’ll behave in any given situation, because I feel like he and I are pretty much on the same wavelength. Cross makes his fair share of stupid moves every now and again; one of the reasons I like writing him is because I know I probably would have done the same thing, whereas with some other characters, I’d be tempted to change things up to make it more realistic.


How do you handle the challenge of writing from multiple points of view? What makes it hard, and what makes it possible, at all?

Aside from the prologue of Blood Skies, I actually didn’t start writing from a second POV until Book Three, when Cross’s disappearance mandated a new character take over as the eyes and ears for the readers. For me the trick is to keep it simple: if you’re writing from multiple POVs, be sure to make them different enough individuals that the reader never gets confused, and try to use them in such a fashion that it makes sense to switch perspective — i.e. you’re still advancing the story by switching characters, not just re-telling every event from multiple viewpoints.

Blood Skies is the name of both the series and the first novel in it. Did you have such a good experience with the first novel that you decided to expand it into a series, or did you envision a long story arc and plan all the installments in it, first?

The former. The original draft of Blood Skies was actually quite different from how things wound up. As I mentioned before, the first version had strong elements of steampunk, and it was only about half as long as the finished novel. The original draft also had no survivors, so it definitely wasn’t intended to be an ongoing series. ;D

But as I revised and prepared Blood Skies for publication in early 2011, I got hit with a number of ideas for potential sequels, and decided I wanted to leave things more open-ended. Then, just a month before I released the book, I had an avalanche of ideas for Black Scars, so in the end I was very happy I’d decided to give myself the option for writing Book Two and beyond.

Can you describe the story arc? Where are you so far, and where will the next four books go?

Blood Skies (the series) at a glance is about the war between the humans of the Southern Claw and the vampires of the dreaded Ebon Cities, but before long the story turns to humankind’s struggle to protect their world from the dark powers behind The Black, a cataclysmic event that transformed the world into the wastelands it has become.

Blood Skies introduces Eric Cross, the protagonist of the series, and establishes many of the rules of the setting. Black Scars introduces Danica Black and Mike Kane and shows the formation of Cross’s team of mercenaries. Books four to seven (Soulrazor, Crown of Ash, The Witch’s Eye and Chain of Shadows Parts One and Two) chronicle the team’s struggles against the forces behind the creation of The Black. The final three books in the series (Vampire Down, The Ending Dream and Darker Sunset) will deal with the aftermath of the struggle, and show how the team’s victory was anything but complete.

All of your books seem to feature many of the same elements: witchcraft, horror, vampires and a damaged, changing world. Are they all based in the same alternate time-line, or are they different tales, entirely?

I’ve always tried to push the idea that the World After the Black is a conglomerate of multiple realities: the shattered remnants of different worlds, realities, times, or planes of existence having all crashed together with Earth as the focal point. The truth is, no one really knows where most of the elements came from originally — Earth and all of its disparate parts have been forcefully fused into a new paradigm. Part of the reason I did this, honestly, was to enhance the horror of the situation, for it means the world that humans are trapped in is all but impossible to break down and understand.

Do you ever find elements from your novels or from your life as a novelist have an impact on your other identity, as an accountant?

I do wish I had an arcane spirit with me at work, if that’s what you mean. ;D But seriously, the only real effect I find is that I wish I was doing more writing than accounting. With luck, I can continue to move toward that goal.

Do you have plans for any other types of stories outside of the Blood Skies world, or the genre?

This year I plan to publish City of Scars, which I wrote a few years back, the first novel in my epic fantasy Skullborn series. I’ll also eventually publish another stand-alone horror novel called Blood Angel Rising, about a pair of hit-men tracking down a fallen angel. On top of that I’ve written dozens of horror and dark fantasy short stories which I should probably allow to see the light of day at some point.

What is your favourite type of book to read?

I like dark epic fantasy, military sci-fi, and some horror. I enjoy some paranormal romance and urban fantasy, though it has to be taken in short doses. I’m also a sucker for a good murder mystery.

Who would you say are your major influences as a writer?

To this day my biggest influences remain J.V. Jones, China Mieville, Clive Barker, Tanith Lee, John Marco, John Meaney and C.S. Friedman. I’ll eat up pretty much anything those authors write. In the Indie field I’m a huge fan of Michael Hicks, Jon F. Merz, Jen Kirchner, Alan Edwards, Mike Berry, Candice Bundy and that Bruce Blake guy.

If there was one thing about your published work that you could change, what would it be?

I hate that it took me so long to produce those books. ;D I also know my first novel wasn’t as crisply edited as some of my later work, a fact that I plan to remedy as soon as I have some spare time. I’ve toyed with the notion of releasing an Omnibus of the first three novels of the Blood Skies series, and I’ll doubtlessly re-edit the lot before I do that.

Thanks for having me, Scott!

Thank you for coming, Steven.

Steven Montano’s books are all available on Amazon. For a full list, visit his Amazon author page.

And don’t neglect visiting his website, bloodskies.com, his blog, and grab the Ebon Cities Gazette.

Follow Steven on Twitter @Daezarkian

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