Darrell Drake was kind enough to provide three (3) free ebook copies of A Star-Reckoner’s Lot to go along with his interview! The link and details for the giveaway are located at the bottom of the post, following the interview
Today I am interviewing Darrell Drake, author of the new, historical fantasy novel, A Star-Reckoner’s Lot!!!
[Insert 80’s montage with guitars and fireworks and Canadian flags]
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DJ: Hey Darrell! Thanks for stopping by to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Darrell Drake: There’s one thing you should know about me above all else: that I’m fond of birds. How fond? I once let a Canadian goose eat out of my hand, and Canadian geese are nothing if not vicious. Really. Also, I regularly serenade my cat with power ballads.
DJ: What is A Star-Reckoner’s Lot about?
Darrell: The thriving, culturally rich late-antique empire of Sassanian Iran; a strong yet tragically real heroine whose illness and bereavement hangs over her like a cloud of soot and grime; a system of luck-based magic fueled by astronomy (and unpredictable at best in the case of the heroine); a companion who is, perhaps above all else, a liability, with an unconventional take on reality; and all of this inspired by classics such as the Shahnameh and Arabian Nights.
DJ: What were some of your influences for A Star-Reckoner’s Lot?
Darrell: For the execution of stories within the greater story I drew obvious inspiration from Scheherazade’s delivery of her tales in Arabian Nights—though not nearly as recursive. The tales themselves were influenced in part by the Shahnameh, Iran’s national epic, and the folklore and mythology of the region.
The setting allowed me a wealth of content to draw from, which further seeded the adventures of Ashtadukht and her cohorts. The history and multifarious lands of Sassanian Iran would be the core around which their path wound. The empire spanned four centuries; its domain stretched from Mesopotamia to Central Asia. Needless to say, I had quite a bit to work with on that front.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Darrell: Ashtadukht, the heroine of A Star-Reckoner’s Lot, is perhaps the most appealing because of her flaws. She’s constantly struggling with her illness, the weight of her husband’s death (and her headstrong pursuit of the div responsible [a sort of monster]), the enormity of her title as star-reckoner, the contempt with which her peers view her (due to her unpredictable star-reckoning, and leniency toward the divs she’s meant to root out). All the while, she maintains her bearing. She is proud, intelligent, and capable—neither above her faults nor weakened by them. In her adventures, readers will come to find just how heedlessly she follows her course for justice—or what she would call justice.
Waray is one of Ashtadukht’s companions, one who has already endeared readers, and is above all else a liability. A glance at her semi-keeled scales and otherwise viper-like appearance imparts a clear impression of her terrible lineage. She is no normal div, though. A normal div would be a more straightforward problem; Waray is half-div. Her troubled state becomes immediately manifest in unusual idiosyncrasies and an unconventional take on reality, symptoms of her grim personality disorders. What’s more, she harbors a lie so great it entices her own kind to turn on her. Hunted by both sides, running from her past, Waray is in a bad … way when Ashtadukht finds her.
DJ: What is the universe/world for A Star-Reckoner’s Lot like?
Darrell: A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is based in 6th-century Sassanian Iran, an empire contemporary with Rome. With the exception of an interruption by Alexander the Great, Iran had existed as a series of empires that dominated the area. But this was before the advent of Islam, and while there was naturally turbulence, the empire generally practiced tolerance in many things. This allowed the Sassanians to embrace the many cultures their borders encompassed, and those without. They sought out the arts and sciences with open arms, and even embraced those who sought refuge of intellect when the academy of Athens was closed by Justinian on religious grounds.
The narrative takes place over the course of some 30-odd years (never explicitly stated, but those who decide to do some research can corroborate), and this period is comfortably within a golden age for Sassanian Iran. Under the leadership of the mighty King of Kings, the empire flourished. In war, it commanded respect; in peace, it thrived. It glowed with an appreciation for court, religion, king, and nature—often finding unity in depictions of the Royal Hunt.
When discussing Iran, people tend to respond with something about how arid and desolate it is. Yes, it has its deserts replete with 600ft. dunes, and wind-carved yardangs like misshapen fortresses rising from the dust. And nearby, its salt flats. But it’s also home to the lush Caspian coast. To dense forests busy with activity. To snow-capped peaks, the towering Mt. Damavand above all, and the pastureland that surrounds them. Elsewhere, marshes teem with wildlife. Fields of wildflowers bloom beautifully around salt lakes. And that’s only modern Iran. The Sassanian territory included the escarpments of Armenia, the plains of Mesopotamia, even reaching as far as Egypt at its height.
DJ: The book’s synopsis talks about “a women who commands the might of constellations.” Is this a common type of power in the world?
Darrell: Star-reckoning is only explained in broad terms in the novel, with that information supplemented by the act itself. This intended haziness is meant to lend to the mystical, cryptic, and privileged nature of star-reckoning. But there is an underlying system involved.
Let’s back up a bit before getting into that. We must first briefly tackle matters of cosmology—the universe as viewed and explained from a mythical perspective. In the beginning, the heavens were the residence of the beneficent Ohrmazd, with the rancorous Ahriman restricted to the darkness below. Eventually and inevitably, Ahriman’s terrible host set upon the firmament. The second such attack ended in a revolving theatre: the planets assaulting the constellations.
It is this theatre that is of the utmost importance to a star-reckoner. While his or her training has imparted many ways of dealing with divs, star-reckoning is by and large the most potent, hence the namesake. Star-reckoners redirect a fraction of the power exuded by the clashing hosts of the Truth and the Lie, repurposing it for feats of magic.
When a star-reckoner draws of a lot—what star-reckoners call their foray into the heavens—there are many factors and portents to consider: falls, exaltations, conjunctions, aspects, elemental qualities, and well, let’s just say a star-reckoner’s mind is always racing when she draws a lot. These qualities are actually measured by observing the sky. The locations of the stars, the planets, and the Moon are all taken into consideration, and all have a profound effect on the outcome. And for every star-reckoning in the novel I have went through the process of conducting the ritual with the aid of planetarium software. Every lot drawn was subject to the whim of a die rolling on my desk.
DJ: There are also “creatures now believed mythical.” Can you tell us a little about these mythical creatures?
Darrell: While there are some exceptions, such as the Dourboat and Senmurv, most of the mythical creatures involved are divs. Divs are monsters that come in many forms with many dispositions. But they all are servants of evil in some manner or another. It could be something as simple as murder; it could be by coercing innocents to join the side of Ahriman; it could be by polluting nature; it could be by antagonizing the souls of the dead. There are other, more powerful divs that exist more as a hypostasis of some idea, such as disgrace, want, or vengeance. All in all, they seek to usurp the hold of order and good in the many ways they are equipped to do so.
DJ: A Star-Reckoner’s Lot was also a successful Kickstarter project. What made you pursue this path and how the experience? Would you kickstart a book again?
Darrell: I was strolling through a park with a friend who ran several successful Kickstarters for his popular Viking board game. I don’t remember how, but he convinced me. As far as choosing Kickstarter over traditional publishing is concerned, I wasn’t particularly keen on placing both my future and the future of something I’ve toiled over at the whim of a few gatekeepers.
If I had to use one word to describe the Kickstarter experience, it’d be “stressful”. Getting all of the logistics in order was, and still is, incredibly demanding for one person. But the campaign had me meeting many new folks and making worthwhile acquaintances, which was grand. What’s more, it showed that people are interested, and now allows me to operate with creative independence. I’d definitely Kickstart another book if the opportunity arises, and the luminaries align. It’s a solid, rewarding platform once you figure out how to use it.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing A Star-Reckoner’s Lot?
Darrell: Finally getting the damn story out of my head! It wasn’t particularly fond of being locked up in there.I share the sentiment. I’d have to say the research, though. Rather than diving into the story, I devoted the first couple years to researching Sassanian Iran. It was enlightening, to put it lightly.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Darrell: The twist to the story, or the characters. The cast is small, but they shine ever so brilliantly, and I’ve had nothing but good feedback from readers and reviewers.
DJ: What is your goal in writing the A Star-Reckoner’s Lot? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across to readers when it is finally told?
Darrell: Nothing so hifalutin as a message or meaning. Just a pleasant tale that inspires that feeling of loss that a good book does when you’ve finished the last page. I do hope to inspire readers to do some research of their own, though: to spark an interest in Sassanian Iran.
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 A Star-Reckoner’s Lot that you can share with us?
Darrell: I genuinely wish I had something to offer on that front. As many times as I’ve read through the book, I think it’s all begun to blur together. I know there are some worthwhile quotations in there. Just can’t quite reel them in. I’m sure readers will have no problem finding some of their own! Oh, here’s one: “She did not belong to the healthy group of widows and widowers who, after mourning, would nurture the seed of their grief into growing from loss—perhaps continuing the dreams of the lost, or learning to cherish alone the things they’d cherished together.
She belonged instead to the sad lot who clung to grief, who nurtured it by never moving beyond it. They’d shelter it deep inside where the years padded it in saudade layers like some malignant pearl.”
DJ: Now that A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is released, what is next for you?
Darrell: I know it’s not what I should be saying. But nothing is brewing. For now, I’ll promote the hell out of this book. It has dominated the last 10% of my life. Frankly, they weren’t the best years. I need a break. A break is next. A break and a drink.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Darrell-Drake/e/B006JVQPOO/
Author Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/b79Azj
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about A Star-Reckoner’s Lot that we haven’t talked about yet?
Darrell: That you don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy it. First and foremost, A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is Ashtadukht’s story. Her life. While those interested in history will find themselves indulged, I’ve endeavored to weave it subtly into the tale. Besides, fantasy reflects history in so many ways.
DJ: This isn’t a book related questions, but since you are fond of birds… Why are magpies so great anyway?!
Darrell: Ohhhh, man. Let me tell you about magpies. First of all, they’re marvy. Second of all, look at this guy. Or better yet, marvel at this little fella. Magpies just wanna have fun. Sure, some breeds swoop at you because they just don’t care, but don’t worry about it.
Oh, the Eurasian magpie, that brilliant Pica Pica, is the only bird to have passed the mirror self-recognition test (which is meant to test self-awareness). The only bird. Wow! Can you believe it? That’s magpies for you. FRIGGIN’ TRAILBLAZERS!
I have a magpie feather that a chum of mine sent from Alberta. Unfortunately, we don’t have magpies in Toronto.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Darrell: And thank you for having me, DJ. It’s been a pleasure, and I appreciate your taking the time to tailor questions to the book!
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*** A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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Please click on the Rafflecopter link below to enter to win one (1) of three (3) ebook copies of A Star-Recoker’s Lot! Good luck!
Runs through September 8, 2016 (09/08/2016)
*** RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY!!! ***
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For some, loss merely deprives. For others, it consumes.
Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been. Witness her treacherous journey through Iranian legends and ancient history.
Only a brave few storytellers still relate cautionary glimpses into the life of Ashtadukht, a woman who commanded the might of the constellations—if only just, and often unpredictably. They’ll stir the imagination with tales of her path to retribution. How, fraught with bereavement and a dogged illness, she criss-crossed Sassanian Iran in pursuit of creatures now believed mythical. Then, in hushed tones, what she wrought on that path.
Darrell Drake has published four books, with A Star-Reckoner’s Lot being the latest. He often finds himself inspired by his research to take on new hobbies. Birdwatching, archery, stargazing, and a heightened interest in history have all become a welcome part of his life thanks to this habit.