Today I am interviewing Jon Skovron, author of the new fantasy novel, Hope and Red, first book in the Empire of Storms trilogy.
◊ ◊ ◊
DJ: Hey Jon! Thanks for stopping by to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Jon Skovron: Sure! I’m a single father of two pre-teen boys. I live just outside Washington, DC, although I’m originally from Ohio. I studied at an intensive, four year theater conservatory rather than go to a regular college, which is why theater inevitably shows up in some form in just about every book I write. I’ve written four Young Adult novels before this, three of which were contemporary fantasy. So Hope and Red is my first foray into both “grown-up” books, and epic fantasy.
DJ: What is Hope and Red about?
JS: This is always such a tough one for me. Summing up something that took me more than a year to write in just a sentence. But I’ve been trying to whittle it down, and this is what I’ve got:
It’s about two people, Hope and Red, with very different backgrounds, who find common purpose against a group of cruel, science-magicians called biomancers.
But really what I want to say it that it’s my swashbuckling kung fu pirate gangster romance epic!
DJ: What were some of your influences for Hope and Red?
JS: Well, sailing has always been a big part of my family. My grandfather was, among other things, a salty old sea dog who played accordion and everything. I learned to sail at an early age and while I was often trapped in landlocked Ohio as a child, summers sailing with my grandparents are some of my fondest memories as a child. So I knew I wanted to do something with sailing, which of course meant pirates (obviously).
I’m also a huge fan of kung fu films, so that was another element I wanted to bring into it. There is something about the theatricality and expansiveness of kung fu storytelling that I’ve always loved.
When creating the Vinchen, I also did a lot of research on feudal Japan. Not just the samurai (although that was part of it). I was also fascinated by the changes that took place in Japan when they ended their centuries of isolationism. Plus, I’m also a manga and anime junkie, so I’m sure that crept in there.
I also researched the early history of New York City quite a bit while I was creating my city of New Laven. I particularly love many of the urban folk tales that Herbert Asbury compiled.
DJ: What is the universe for the Empire of Storms trilogy like? (the environment, weather, people, religion, technology, architecture, government, etc; is it violent, peaceful, patriarch/matriarch, etc.)
JS: The Empire of Storms is actually just one country in a much bigger world. The environment, religion, technology, government, etc varies greatly in this world from one country to the next. You’ll get a better sense of that in the second book, Bane and Shadow. But talking specifically about the Empire of Storms, its an archipelago of islands in the southwestern region of the world. Ostensibly, it is ruled by an emperor with a divine mandate, but the emperor is old and heavily influenced by the biomancers. The religion is monotheistic and tied to both imperial power, the biomancers, and another religious order called the Vinchen. It’s also heavily patriarchal, with a strict class structure. The technology is roughly early Nineteenth Century, with a few key exceptions (the most notable being the introduction of an early, muzzle-loading revolver).
The islands vary widely from one to the next. Some, like New Laven, are densely populated, with a thriving criminal underworld. Others are more rural. The culture of these islands is so inconsistent that the only thing that really keeps them united is the military might of the imperial navy and fear of the biomancers. The other religious order, the Vinchen warrior monks, are is supposed to balance out the biomancers. But they went into seclusion more than a century ago and only intercede when the emperor commands them, which he hasn’t done in over twenty years.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
JS: Hope witnesses her village get massacred by a biomancer and is then taken in by a Vinchen warrior monk, who drills his code of honor into her. From that moment, she bends her entire life’s purpose toward vengeance. It’s great for her, because she can kind of simplify everything that way. Does this work within my code of honor? No? Well, then kill it dead! But of course this a terribly narrow way of looking at the world and as the book progresses, she begins to understand that.
Because Red is the opposite of this. The son of a prostitute and a painter in a large urban slum, he’s also left orphaned at a young age. But his mentor, Sadie the Goat, is a matriarch of the criminal underworld where nothing is ever black and white, only shades of slippery gray. He has uncanny aim with a throwing knife, but his biggest asset is actually his ability to charm his way in and out of just about anything. Red’s problem, though, is he lacks a higher purpose. He has some vaguer ideas about sticking it to the man, but most of it is just tavern talk. So Hope, with her laser-like focus, gives him some direction. The real fun for me is when they come together and really start muddying each other’s waters.
There are also a ton of secondary characters that were a lot of fun to write. Sadie the Goat in particular is endless fun, mostly because there is probably nothing she won’t say outloud. Brigga Lin is secretly my favorite, and that’s become even more true in Bane and Shadow. I like writing Alash and Filler because they’re such thoughtful, gentle souls, and as cool as Hope and Red are, they need people like that to ground them. And Nettles…well, she might be a bit hard to like at first (as her name suggests), but she’ll be going through some big changes throughout the trilogy.
And I guess that’s true of all of them. I don’t like writing stagnant characters, or archetypal characters who never change or grow or learn. For me, the most interesting part is how the characters evolve over the course of the story.
DJ: Did you have any particular influences for the characters of Hope and Red? When I read them, Hope’s sense of duty and honor felt as strong as Brienne of Tarth from A Song of Ice and Fire, and I thought Red would have fit in perfect with Locke Lamora from the Gentlemen Bastard’s Sequence.
JS: Those are both great comparisons, but any similarity was entirely accidental. I’m honestly not sure where Hope came from, but I think you’ll find her veering away from Brienne somewhat in Bane and Shadow. I will admit that Red is a tiny bit influenced by the character of Silk from the Belgariad. God, I loved those books when I was a kid. And Brigga Lin is partly inspired by the antagonist in the highly underrated kung fu film The Swordsman II.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing in the Empire of Storms trilogy? Hope and Red is only the first book of three, so the series is obviously not complete yet, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across to readers when the story is finally told? Personally, I noticed a strong aspect of diversity and gender equality.
JS: I’m pleased you felt that way, but I don’t really set out to write a book with an agenda. I think “message books” tend to age quickly, while stories can last forever, their meaning and message changing and evolving along with the reader. I suppose the reason Hope and Red has such a strong aspect of diversity and gender equality goes back to the old adage of “write what you know”. In my life there are lots of strong, intelligent, complex women. There are people of different races. There are LGBTQ people. There are people who gloriously defy any sort of description at all. If they’re in my life, I see no reason why they wouldn’t be in my fantasy world as well.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Hope and Red?
JS: My favorite thing is probably just hanging out with my characters in those quieter moments. You know, Writing those cozy, less dramatic bits of dialogue. But a close second is coming up with the slang for the New Laven underclasses. Man do I love writing that stuff, especially when Red’s really on a roll. I can hear it so clearly in my head, and all I can do is hope that at least some of what I hear makes it onto the page.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
JS: There a couple of really gruesome parts, mostly thanks to the biomancers, so maybe those? But I really want them to be talking about what they think will happen to Hope and Red next!
DJ: This might be a strange question, but you are mainly a YA writer, and Hope and Red is actually your first “adult” novel, I believe. Did going away from YA present any new challenges? Did you have to write or approach this story any differently?
JS: It took some adjustment, but I found it incredibly freeing. I was ready to try some new things that wouldn’t have fit as well in YA. In particular, I found complex, nuanced characters, deep immersive world-building, and expansive plotting are much more appreciated in “grown up” fantasy.
There is naturally some crossover for this book with YA. After all, Hope and Red go from age eight to sixteen to eighteen during the course of the story, and that’s prime YA territory. But by the end of the book, they’ve both matured quite a bit, and I think you’ll find Bane and Shadow moving even further away from anything that might feel “YA”.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Hope and Red that you can share with us?
JS: Each part of the book begins with a quote from The Book of Storms, a religious text written jointly by the first emperor, and his biomancer and Vinchen advisors. I’m very fond of the last one and how it applies to both Hope and Red in different ways:
“The person you believe yourself to be is only part of you, just as all truths are only partial truths.”
DJ: Now that Hope and Red is released, what is next for you?
JS: Bane and Shadow comes out in about 9 months. It’s in copyedits now. I’m working on Book 3 at the moment with the idea of it coming out less than a year after that. So that’s my plan for the next couple of years!
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/jonskovron
DJ: Before I let you go, maybe you could tell our readers a little more about these horrifically powerful and terrifying biomancers!
JS: Well, as I said, they’re sort of science-magicians. That is, the kernel of what they do, which is to alter living things, has no scientific basis. So that’s the magic part. But the way they employ this ability is with careful application of the scientific method. There’s something about the fusion of inexplicable magic and cold, precise methodology that I find especially unnerving. For example, the biomancer who massacres Hope’s village is researching a new biological weapon for the empire. As such, he views the outcome of his experiment (i.e. the horrifying death of about fifty people) as unfortunate, but necessary for the good of the empire.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
JS: Thanks so much for such thoughtful questions!
DJ: You are welcome! I’m glad you liked them 🙂 And thank you so much for taking the time to answer them!
◊ ◊ ◊
*** Hope and Red is published by Orbit and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Nook
◊ ◊ ◊
IN A FRACTURING EMPIRE SPREAD ACROSS SAVAGE SEAS, TWO PEOPLE FIND A COMMON CAUSE.
HOPE, the lone survivor of a village massacred by the emperor’s forces, is secretly trained as a warrior and instrument of vengeance.
RED, an orphan adopted by a notorious matriarch of the criminal underworld, learns to be an expert thief and con artist.
Together they will take down an empire.
Jon Skovron has been an actor, musician, lifeguard, Broadway theater ticket seller, warehouse grunt, technical writer, and web developer. Now he is a father and the author of Young Adult novels Struts & Frets, Misfit and the forthcoming Man Made Boy, as well as many short stories and essays. He generally likes stories that are dark, strange, and occasionally funny.
Jon was born in Columbus, Ohio. After traveling around a bit, from Pittsburgh to London to New York to Seattle, he has settled, somewhat haphazardly, in the Washington, DC area, where he and his two sons can regularly be seen not fitting into the general Government scene.