Fuming with rage and bitterness six friends band together to avenge the destruction of a small human settlement. Through sheer determination and stoic resolve they succeed, though at what cost? Because of their actions, one of them will fall to the enemy and Velthanjantle, the demonic avatar of Kargonis is resurrected. Though weak, the demon breaks free to reign havoc once again upon the world.

A.J. O’Connell was born and raised in Clearwater, Florida then moved to Anchorage, Alaska for his senior year of high school. From there, A.J. joined the Air Force to see the world. Athletic at a young age he played football and baseball, joined the wrestling team and even studied martial arts. Despite his extracurricular activities he enjoyed many weekends indulging in marathon role-playing adventures with friends. At age 14, A.J. began designing a role-playing game and world of his own which quickly replaced the classics he and his friends occupied their time with. Gradually the world fleshed out, the races evolved, the high intensity adventure and martial combat became the mainstay of their action packed adventures and the rules of magic within Reality solidified. Finally, at age 33 his wife convinced him to write a book, and during his third deployment to Iraq in 2007/8, A.J. did just that.

To read more about this book and A.J. check out his website HERE.

OBS: How did you get into writing and is Awakenings your first book?
Andrew: Yes, Awakenings is my first published book. About ten years ago I sat down and wrote a small (64,000) word book, but it felt all wrong, something was missing; the characters didn’t develop as I had planned and it was just ugly. Many of those characters have grown a bit since then and have made it into Awakenings… albeit much more alive. I’ve always enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. I had a few teachers in middle and high school who would let me sit in their room when the day was over and write my little stories while they graded papers. When I was finished, they would help me make them a little better by asking questions pertinent to motivation, plot and characters. I’ve been playing with ideas like that ever since.

OBS: Many writers, especially first time writers, find that it easier to write from first person perspective, but you write in third person narrative. Why did you choose to write from an overall narrative perspective, rather than follow one individual?
Andrew: Writing in the third person allows me a lot of freedom to explore perspectives and concepts. My goal is to give the readers clear visuals of an entire scene which means that I have to switch perspectives at times. I love being able to pan out, like a movie, and see what’s going on everywhere. By writing in the third person I can (and often do), slip into the thoughts of multiple characters to help describe a person, effect or event… hopefully without making it feel like it’s another description. I think it really helps when descriptions get a bit drawn out. I want the reader to be able to capture the entire adventure, without feeling bogged down with endless details.

OBS: Do you feel that your experience in the military and with martial arts helped shape the world in which your characters inhabit?
Andrew: Absolutely to both! I started martial arts and sports when I was young; around the same time I began to lean in the direction of fantasy. Some of the close-quarters fighting scenes in Awakenings are derived from my martial arts experiences, while sports and the military have helped me see things from a team perspective. Traveling all over the world with the military has given me ample opportunity to meet people of a wide variety of beliefs and backgrounds. Something I like to think filters into the different characters in the Racial War Saga.

OBS: Your book easily fits into the same genre as Lord of the Rings, but a more recent phenomenon that could be associated with your book is the games World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons. Are you personally interested in either of these, or does your inspiration come from that Tolkien world rather than any current fantasy medium?
Andrew: You’re determined to drag out my ‘closet geek’ aren’t you? I played D&D when I was younger and fell in love with it. I tried many tabletop RPGs back then, G.U.R.P.S., Shadowrun, etc. but I always went back to fantasy. Magic enthralled me. The idea of being able to perform extraordinary feats with an intangible energy made my pulse quicken every time I had the chance during a game. After a few years, I decided that there just wasn’t enough magic in one game to satisfy me, so I began creating my own world where magic was everywhere, and in many different forms. That game world became something of a hobby for me, and as I grew older, the races and magic of the world all evolved with me. I don’t play tabletop RPG’s anymore, mostly because of the time needed to get into a campaign. However, when time permits, World of Warcraft has made it easy for a ‘casual gamer’ like me to scratch that itch.

OBS: Your book is laced with typical and non-typical fantasy creatures. How did you re-imagine the classic races and come up with your own original feel for them?
Andrew: Time really, lots and lots of time. As I grew older and continued to read I would discover things in books and fantasy worlds that I thought were wrong in my opinion, or not detailed enough, and I would jot down some notes on how I could fix those discrepancies. As the Realm of Reality evolved, the magic and races naturally evolved with it. When I finally settled on a point system, it was easy to plug in numbers, but it was the special abilities associated with each race that were the most difficult thing to balance. Hmmm… I think I went off on a tangent there… Let me try again: when the original fantasy races were created, they were unheard of, surprising, and so different that people could not help but fall in love with them and the ingenuity behind them. Tolkien took the Tinkerbell-esque elves of his era and evolved them into what we presently envision when the word elf is spoken. I think it is time for another evolution of those fantastic races. I think it is time for ‘cat-people’ to have a name (fialt for example), and ‘fish-people’ (merloch) to really be seen in a story as… people, and not just comic relief or an unimportant or out-of-place addition. I know who humans are, and mostly what they’re capable of, it’s those other races I’ve always wanted to know more about.

[On a side note, I’ve used the name Merloch as my ‘fishy’ race since long before I started playing WoW… ]

OBS: What other media do you use to help inspire you while writing (Music, Art, Movies, etc.)? Anything specific?
Andrew: I listen to a lot of different types of music. Depending on the mood I want to convey I will switch from hip-hop/R&B to Enya/Enigma. I like Prince; his lyrics can get pretty deep and the astute reader will pick up on some references from some of his songs. It gets worse though… I found this acapella group, Cantus, of whom I am fond when I’m trying to paint the scenery and old-school Irish drinking music when the words are just flowing. I must admit though, during the development of Chapter 9, and into the second book, I listen(ed) to Disturbed a LOT, particularly “Down with a Sickness”.

OBS: Which of your characters do you identify with the most and the least? Is this your favorite character as well, if not, then who is?
Andrew: Thanks for asking the easy questions… ug. I think there is a little of me in each of them, even the bad guys. Bear with me for a moment as I refer back to D&D. One of the things I found wrong with the game were alignments. An alignment was a specific way you had to act and there was absolutely no room for that in my world. One day I may want to guard that caravan, the next I may want to rob it. It all depends on where my mind is at that particular moment, and the events which brought me to that caravan in the first place. I think you’re following me now, so to give you the quick answer to both of your questions; I can identify with all of them. I think everyone has good and evil in them, but some lean further one way than the other, more frequently.

OBS: For anyone who hasn’t read a Tolkien book, played WoW or D&D (and therefore have no idea what I am talking about), what would you say to them in order to get them to read your book?
Andrew: There is no delay in getting to the story; you don’t have to read halfway through the book before you’re neck-deep in trouble. Right at the start I’ll drop you into the fire and continue to turn up the heat as the book progresses. It is a dangerous world and the action is intense. The character interaction is as crucial as the combat sequences and guides the twisting plot through its course. There is sarcastic humor, some underlying romance, a drop of suspense and the thrill of seeing the impossible. If magic interests you there are shape changing shamans, divine theologians and their gods, alchemists, rune bearing Heralds, and spell-hurling Spellweavers riddled throughout Awakenings. It is not all witches and warlocks though. Hardened assassins, pious priests, determined soldiers, greedy dragons and demonic plots are all in between these pages. Whether you like to curl up in bed and drift off to a magical world or you prefer to sit on the couch and kick your feet back to enjoy an epic adventure, you have found it in Awakenings.

OBS: What future projects are you working on? Can you tell us anything about them?
Andrew: Book 2 of the Racial War Saga is tentatively titled Plague. Incomplete at present, it is already larger than Awakenings and introduces more of the assassins in the Thorns of Chaos. The mysterious Tyvonis is revealed. Zariah gets out of her ‘damsel in distress’ lull and the Temple of Orinis’Thas is revisited and explained. The Ivory Empire has arrived on the continent of Talonus and in the very first chapter you get to see a bit of what they’re made of. The Ivory Empire adds a science fiction element to the Racial War Saga. They were brought up in a world (Citadel) without access to gods or magic of any sort; therefore, they were forced to advance differently. Since the War of the Gods merged Citadel and Bastion (Citadel’s twin world) together, everyone born in Reality has the ability to use magic. Those humans of Citadel, the Ivory Empire, are a bit pissed about being left out of the god-loop.

OBS: What is the one thing you’d like to tell people that we did not ask?
Andrew: The website (www.racialwar.net) is a project of mine where I have spent some time building an information database about the Realm of Reality and the characters that dwell there. Descriptions of the different types of magic, the races and their evolutions, and several excerpts from the Archon are posted. There are also character profiles, some more information about me, and during promotion cycles, I’ll post upcoming events with as much notice as I can. As we draw closer to the release of Book 2, I will be adding more and more profiles of characters that readers of Book 1 have yet to meet as well as more of the different races in the Realm of Reality.

Thanks A.J. for the awesome interview and nerding out with me over fantasy games, table top and computers alike. If you enjoy any of the stuff we’ve been talking about or just want to read a detailed world of magic, check out A.J’s book.

You can check out more about The Racial War Saga here: