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Mar 14, 2014

Interview from Richard E.D. Jones on Underground Book Reviews

The following interview was posted on the magazine Underground Book Reviews on February 26, 2014. I'm including it here, but encourage you to visit their site as there are many great interviews and indie book reviews. It's a classy site! Richard E.D. Jones also reviewed Primary Fault for the magazine. Not greatly into the cult of self, it was a fantastically fun interview and some of the answers might be of interest to readers of the Schattenreich series, so I wanted to repost it here.

Since Richard did me a great favor by reading my book, reviewing it and asking me a bunch of questions that were great fun to answer, I hope I can return the favor a smidgen by getting you to go check out his stuff.

A little bit about Richard:

Richard E.D. Jones is an award-winning writer and author of the hilarious how-to book for new dads, A Dude’s Guide to Babies: The New Dad’s Playbook. After surviving for a decade as a stay-at-home dad rearing three boys and a wife, Richard and his friend, Barry Robert Ozer, decided someone had to writer the user’s guide to babies for men. Broken down in to small chunks for easier, throne-sitting ingestion, the Guide has big print, a bunch of lists and a guaranteed laugh every 1.3 pages. Note, it’s not a money-back guarantee, ‘cause he’s not giving that back. 

In addition to working as a freelance non-fiction writer, Richard also writes a-bit-too-funny-for-their-own-good urban fantasy and science-fiction stories. Until Tomorrow, the story of the bastard son of the god of wine and revelry and himself the god of procrastination, still is looking for a home if you’d like to represent. 

His most recent finished novel is the genre-blending urban fantasy, Reptile Wisdom. The story takes place in the CurseWerks universe, the setting of several of his popular short stories. The novel deals with mad science, appalling magic, zombies, snot monsters and the occasional advisability of allowing a severed hand to roam freely throughout a mad scientist’s laboratory. Adventure, humor and redemption all wrapped up in one page-turning package. Representation rights available. 

Richard also is pounding the keyboard for his newest Work in Progress, a secret book that goes by the initials RL. It is a YA adventure book combining several of Richard’s favorite things. When he’s not lobbing softballs at more successful writers, Richard writes for the daily fatherhood blog, A Dude’s Guide to . . . Everything. His fiction can be found on Amazon.com and the website where he writes things ByRichardJones.

And now for the interview (the original on Underground Book Reviews is here):

Sharon Kae Reamer is a native Philadelphian, who coyly admits to being wowed by the original Star Trek series when it first aired on live television. She and her family quickly moved to slightly warmer climes in Texas, where she was raised in Dallas and attended Southern Methodist University, receiving an advanced degree in geophysics. While in graduate school, Reamer met a “sexy German guy” visiting the university and struck up a relationship that led to her moving to Germany and marrying her sexy guy almost twenty years ago. Currently, she works part time in Bensberg, Germany, as a research scientist and lecturer at the Earthquake Observatory of the University of Cologne. Reamer said she always planned to write speculative-fiction stories “someday,” but that day kept getting pushed further and further back. Eventually, she recognized that “someday” was today and started writing.

RICHARD E.D. JONES: Sharon, first off, please excuse the scientific fuzziness. I’m probably going to be lumping in things that would be egregiously wrong in your community, but work just fine for lay idiots such as myself. Still, I’ll try to not offend you too much. You’re an earthquake scientist. Caitlin is an earthquake scientist. You live in Germany. She lives in Germany. She gets dragged into a horrifying netherverse of mystical beings and danger. You get drag—Well, the analogy probably breaks down right about there. So how much of yourself did you put into Caitlin? And if, as I suspect, there might be a lot of you in the base DNA of your character, why?

SHARON KAE REAMER: It’s not easy for the non-specialist to tell the difference in specialties. Most people don’t even know there’s a difference between geologists and geophysicists. It’s similar to speculative fiction encompassing a whole range of subgenres including science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.

But to clarify, I am not an earthquake scientist, I’m a seismologist. Under that name there are also a range of subspecialties, including earthquake seismology. For my dissertation, I studied the seismic effects of explosions so that makes me an explosion seismologist by training. My main character, Caitlin Schwarzbach, is a field geophysicist and data expert – give her some measurement data and she’ll give you results – since she worked as a consultant. She knows the basics of earthquake seismology, but her brother, Gus Schwarzbach, he’s the real earthquake expert.

As for similarities between Caitlin and myself, I gave her a scientist’s worldview and a Texas upbringing. This was important since much of the series is written in first person perspective from Caitie’s POV, and I had to be able to slip inside her head easily. I could relate to her on at least two critical levels, making it easier to start fleshing her out. But that’s where things start to diverge. She’s invested with many characteristics I’ve observed in strong Texas women, women I’ve known and admired. In many ways, I would love to be Caitie. I’d especially like to be as thin as she is. And she has a much better fashion sense than I ever did, even if she does have to model some of her wardrobe around those ropers. Her fear of Death is also something unique to her since she knows him personally. I don’t envy her that.


RICHARD E.D. JONES: One of the most fascinating things I found while reading Primary Fault is the way you fuse what seemed to be Celtic myth figures with Germanic aspects of magic. What made you consider this as the basis for your supernatural events in the novel? Was it difficult finding research materials?

SHARON KAE REAMER: I originally wanted the whole thing to be Germanic. But while researching the presence of the Germanic tribes in the Rhineland, I realized that, at least according to one scholar, some of the tribes were ‘Celticized’. So I twigged to the idea of mixing the two. I developed a deep backstory that moved things more firmly towards the Celtic end of the spectrum because I wanted to have Druids in there. The Germanic tribes didn’t have Druids.

With hindsight, I’m glad I did this because information on the continental Celtic pantheon is thin – the Celts didn’t write things down – and that allows more leeway in mythological worldbuilding. There are a ton of books on Celtic mythology, magickal practice, modern Paganism, the history of the Celts and speculation about whether the Druids even existed. But aside from the archeological evidence, there is little concrete knowledge about how the continental tribes lived and structured their society. Historians and archeologists basically have to sift through what the Celts’ conquerors, the Romans, particularly Julius Caesar, wrote about them.

The Germanic research material is more definite – historians have written evidence to work with – but it’s also been hard (for me in my research) to clearly separate the Nordic and (older) Germanic pantheons. Odin versus W┼Źden, for example. In addition, I’ve made a sincere effort to interpret where crossovers between the Celtic and Germanic mythology might be – it’s not a scholarly contribution but a fantasist’s conceit.

The reason I threw all the mythology in there instead of just a straight-up suspense/thriller was because I liked the ‘what if’ scenario of subjecting a person trained as a scientist to a substantial challenge to her worldview, namely, the existence of a supernatural Otherworld populated by Celtic deities.

I was somewhat leery of a purely Germanic thrust to the story because the series takes place in Germany, and I wanted to avoid steering the story into any areas that overlapped with Nazi mysticism or the like. It might seem like a cool idea, ‘hey, let’s throw some evil Nazis in there’, but after you’ve lived in Germany for any length of time, you don’t think there’s anything cool about Nazis, not even as stereotypical bad guys. There’s some backstory, particularly in the third book, that shines a light on the effects of the holocaust on the von der Lahn family. The characters also have to address their relationship to their Germanic heritage at some point. and I’m dealing with that right now while writing the fifth book.


RICHARD E.D. JONES: Let me state flat out that I’m not a big paranormal romance reader. Nothing against it, but I always found that either there was too much romance, not enough paranormal or, and this is my pet peeve, the authors turned vampires from vicious apex predators into superheroes with a tragic allergy to sunlight. Moving on. Your book has a lot of romantic tension in it, but I’m not sure I would classify it as paranormal romance. Most fantasy books might have a bit about will they kiss or won’t they, but they don’t have a lot of romance in it. Your book does. What made you consider the fusion of romance and urban fantasy? And thanks for not romanticizing vampires.

SHARON KAE REAMER: Funny you should mention vampires. There are parallels between the Celtic deities in the Schattenreich series and vampires. Both feed on human blood. But the Celtic power players go about acquiring it differently. They’re heavily invested in sacrifice.

I also never got into the whole paranormal romance thing either, although that doesn’t mean I won’t start reading the stuff someday. It does have an appeal and I’m sure there are many authors who do it well (Hell’s Belles by Jackie Kessler is on my hot hot hot reading list and A Modern Witch, by Deborah Geary is sitting in my Kindle). That said, reading (and being totally enthralled by) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon encouraged me to put in more rather than less sex as the Schattenreich series progresses because it’s definitely intrinsic to the series themes of sacrifice, surrender and redemption.

But I have a strong penchant for mythological fantasy with a healthy dose of magical realism. My ultimate Otherworld go-to has always been Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. It has influenced me heavily. But the love interest aspects in both his series left a lot to be desired, so to speak. I’ve read a fair amount of Simon Green’s Nightside series and Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and enjoyed them because they were different than the usual paranormal tropes. The badass chicks in both those series are sidekicks and strong characters in their own rights. But I also sort of hankered for a little more romance and less bluster than those series afforded. I finally realized that to get the story I wanted, I’d have to write it myself.

My standard line is, I don’t consider the Schattenreich series to be a romance. It’s a solid cross between contemporary fantasy and suspense with a strong love story.


RICHARD E.D. JONES: In the past, the list of science-fiction and fantasy main characters has been a bit of a sausage fest. That’s been changing lately. Still, the majority of female protagonists seem to be in the kick-ass, Buffy-the-vampire-slayer, action-grrl mold with an amazing combat skill set. Caitlin, to be kind, doesn’t have an amazing combat skill set. What I really enjoyed about her character was that she seemed like a regular woman in this respect. What was your thinking behind staying away from the Buffy-style action hero?

SHARON KAE REAMER: I suppose I could have given Caitlin super-duper earthquake powers, and she does have that going for her – it’s how she manages to stumble, I mean, cross into the Otherworld for a while. And although I was a little too subtle about it, she invests herself with the power from her first day in Germany. But I guess my motive in not going the kickass paranormal chick route was that I wanted Caitie to be a thinking hero. She gets into plenty of scrapes, but her main weapon is her ability to solve problems by reasoning them out. That keeps her vulnerable – because she can also come to the wrong conclusions – but flexible. And I hoped her braininess combined with her Southern Belle charm would make her likeable, even if she does make some really stupid decisions on occasion. Even as the series progresses and her options become more limited, she still doesn’t give up on her analytic skills.


RICHARD E.D. JONES: Now that I think about it, Caitlin feels like a real woman in a lot of different ways. She enjoys sex, but isn’t man crazy. She’s not a combat adept. When introduced to magic, she’s not a natural at the whole thing. She makes realistic mistakes, bad choices and good choices. Most fantasy and science-fiction stories seem to deal in archetypes. That is, the writers pare down their characters to essential characteristics and work from there. Caitlin seems to bring along a lot of baggage, but in a good way. I won’t ask why you decided to create a fully fleshed-out character because I don’t pitch that soft a soft ball. However, I will ask this. When you sat down to write Primary Fault, did you have a list of characteristics you wanted Caitlin to have or is this more a question of having a general idea of who she was and letting circumstances fill in the details?

SHARON KAE REAMER: That’s the beauty of writing a series, and it has been a revelation for me, learning how the characters react to their situations. In early drafts, I did a lot of floundering with Caitlin – and the other characters – before I figured out who they were and what they wanted. But I did have a clear picture of the characters from the start, an amalgam of traits, some taken from real people, and glommed together to form a whole. So, no archetypes, at least not consciously. I like to think that all the main characters started out well but have become more real with time, even the baddies. And I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that they have surprised me more than once with how they’ve evolved. Caitie has proved to be plenty stubborn. But so have Gus Schwarzbach and Hagen von der Lahn. And Sebastian. I think of all the characters, he’s surprised me the most. It’s very gratifying. Ending the series will be a relief, but will also be like losing an entire family all at once.


RICHARD E.D. JONES: The main male characters, Gus and Hagen von der Lahn, both seem to share a similar trait. Gus, Caitlin’s estranged by divorce brother, and Hagen, her German love interest, both insist on trying to protect Caitlin. To me, it felt as if they were a bit overprotective on more than one occasion. Is this just who the characters are, or did you have a specific purpose in having both the relative and the hunk act in the same way? I mean, this sort of overprotectiveness seems a bit condescending at times. Something against which Caitlin can rebel?

SHARON KAE REAMER: That’s an interesting point. Gus and Hagen are compelling characters. They present a challenge for Caitlin to maintain her independence.

Gus’s situation has a few hidden aspects to it that I don’t necessarily want to spoil. Caitlin doesn’t rebel against him often – at least not openly – because she idolizes him. She has her own way of managing Gus, and it works most of the time.

Hagen is a different matter. His attractiveness, sexual magnetism and force of personality are a bit overwhelming to most women, including Caitie. The rebel in her does assert itself, especially when she feels betrayed. Because she’s had a lot of experience dealing with her headstrong brother, she also knows how to choose her battles as most savvy women do. But again, I didn’t want to use the trope of stubborn-paranormal-chick-who-doesn’t-need-help-from-her-strong-handsome-lover. She does need help, even in the face of betrayal. She’s vulnerable. And she’s smart enough to know it – for the most part. Hagen enjoys making her surrender – not succumb – to him. She accedes to a certain extent. It’s the dance they do, an integral part of their relationship.


RICHARD E.D. JONES: What are the other books in the Schattenreich sequence?

SHARON KAE REAMER: Shaky Ground and Double Couple are now available in trade paperback and ebook format. Shadow Zone, book four, will be out in early summer 2014. Triple Junction, the last book in the series, will appear near the end of 2014. I’ll also be bringing out a few short stories from a one-off series, The Eternal Guardian, this year.


RICHARD E.D. JONES: Anything you want to say to the readers who enjoyed Primary Fault? Maybe a hint about what’s in store for Caitlin.

SHARON KAE REAMER: Caitlin’s quest has barely begun in Primary Fault. She first has to learn who and what she is, what she really wants and then figure out how to get it without losing everything dear to her, including her life. The plot does, indeed, thicken. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I thank everyone who has given up a part of their free time to read my book.