OBS Staffer Karolina had the opportunity to read/review Awakenings and interview AJ O’Connell. Read her review here.
1. Your characters are so diverse – as are the races you come up with. Do you have a favorite Race? If so, which?
I have had to spend a considerable amount of time developing each race in the attempt to keep them balanced. Picking a favorite would be difficult. I really like the Marichoa because they are the only race that was bred into Reality, rather than having fallen into the realm via a vortex. Unfortunately, as a race they are mostly all slaves at this point. I wouldn’t necessarily call them my favorite though. The elves, dwarves and halfling races all have rich histories which J.R.R. Tolkien was keen enough to originate. I have long believed that time is past due for the known fantasy races to evolve. What happens when they are forced out of their comfort zones and move to different climates and habitats? It is my goal to evolve the known fantasy races into diverse groups, all of whom have special gifts which are results of their evolutions.
2. The multiple story lines within this book manage to weave themselves together (much like a braid!) How did the story unfold for you?
When I sat down to write the story, it all just flowed out in a massive jumble of information. I can see the fights, hear the ambient sounds and feel the adrenaline pumping as things get increasingly dangerous. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen when I sat down to write each successive chapter, but it was exciting to see it all come together. With Awakenings I had to write it in chapter order, it’s just the way it came out.
3. The idea that the centre of the world that you created is a Rainbow Braid is a fascinating one – especially since the braid itself becomes a character in and of itself with the way it interacts with the various characters. What made you think of it?
When I was going through the process of creating the world, I wanted several different types of magic. Spellweaving began with six circles of magic, which ended up having similar spells and effects within them. I had to separate them somehow, make them unique, but powerful in their own right. What better way than to use primary colors? I had a friend in High School who was all about rainbows and butterflies, so I suppose in a roundabout way, she influenced me into turning something as benign as a rainbow into a source of power. Around that same time (about fifteen years ago) I was solidifying the War of the Gods story and needed a catalyst to restart the world, and the Rainbow Braid was born. It took me awhile to develop it, and it is still evolving of course, but the Braid just made sense. The Rainbow Braid segregates the types of abilities spellweavers have access to and gives me a tangible focus for their power source.
4. The Rainbow braid is made up of seven bands, each having their own magical property. In ‘Awakenings’ , the spellweavers can usually manipulate one particular band particularly well. Is that because they chose a band they want to manipulate, or is it somehow preordained that they will be good at one particular manipulation?
The Braid is a simple thing with complex and intricate uses that require intensive study to perfect. Most humans don’t live long enough to master more than one or two of the colors, though even novices can at least access all seven. After learning a little about the foundations of Spellweaving, they typically choose a color that most fits their personality. Pleathany is a perfect example of a fialt woman who is aggressive, likes being in control and has chosen to specialize in the Red Braid, the most aggressive color. Another would be Bargiss, a nurturing soul who chose the radiant, healing Yellow Braid. No, it is not preordained; rather it is a choice of passion for each spellweaver to decide.
5. The story of Raek and Princess Fairtide sounds interesting – without giving too much away, will we be able to read more of a back story to them? Will their paths cross later?
Absolutely! Princess is a complex woman (is there any other kind?) who hit her prime at a time when Raek went through an expedited aging process… without giving too much away, something happened to Raek in the fifteen years between the prologue and chapter one that is an important plot element in Book 2. Even knowing about the event, Princess made a few mistakes romantically since Velthanjantle was released and some of that will come full circle in the next installment. Princess is tough on the outside, but her emotions dominate a few of her decisions in the upcoming Plague. They will see each other again.
6. A lot of lives were lost in this first book, and I’m assuming more will come. I was quite sad to see some key characters die, although it was clear why they had to. What was that experience like for you?
I have to admit that I have a ton of emotional investment in these characters, and losing even one is a painful experience. Tactically speaking, taking out two powerhouses early in the Racial War was catastrophic to the cause, but like you said, it was necessary. When the deed was done, I had to stand up and walk away from the computer. Yes, some more unfortunate deaths are coming, but there are more people stepping up to help. I’ve added a new page to the website to begin profiling some of those new characters from Plague. Much like the page for Awakenings, there will be artwork and descriptions to help readers identify with the characters. Many more members of Eldorion‘s guild, the Thorns of Chaos, will make themselves known in the second book.
7. What/Who were your influences for this story?
Rainbows and butterflies… There are many, many influences. Once my brother introduced me to fantasy when I was 13, I was hooked. I could not absorb enough information about the mythical, fantastical or magical. When I pop my knuckles and lay my fingers on the keyboard, I listen to a wide variety of music, which helps me dive into the world. Disturbed, Prince, Cantus, Enigma and Enya are among my playlist favorites, they’re all wonderfully different sounds to set a mood. I play video games and MMOs when time permits, but the most influential people are my wife and two step children. My wife had no idea what I was talking about when I tried to explain Reality to her, so she wanted me to write a story to explain it. Well, 126,000 words later, the story is just getting started.
8. What made you want to become a writer?
I’m not sure that I wanted to become a writer as much as I wanted to create the Realm of Reality. If I could speak computer languages this would have become a video game. If I didn’t have five thumbs when it came to illustration this would have been a comic book or graphic novel. Being monolingual with the ability to type and a head full of fantastical images, what other choice was there? The hard drive in my head is reaching capacity so the need for more space has forced my hands into action. The passion to take everything fantasy and meld it together into one enormous world made me want to become a writer. One of my middle school teachers challenged me to make better stories than the mythology she was teaching about, and that was the initial boost I needed. Later, in high school, another teacher challenged me to take some characters from history and tell a different story, an adventure about them that “could have been”. My dad has always been a great storyteller – I think that’s how he wooed my mom – but I have to blame my wife, Zelda, for making me sit down and actually put the proverbial “pen to paper” and write Awakenings.
Thank you Open Book Society for this opportunity and insightful interview.