Today I am interviewing Chris Sharp, author of the new fantasy novel, Cold Counsel.
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DJ: Hey Chris! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Chris Sharp: I don’t think there are too many readers who are familiar with me yet. I’m a middle-aged dreamer with a propensity for long-winded storytelling, a fierce resistance to adulthood, and an optimist’s belief in magic.
Grew up in Alexandria, VA making home movies and playing RPGs with my friends. Went to college, moved to Brooklyn, and worked in film and commercial production for 16 years—often with those same friends—while writing books at night.
Now I’m in MA, with a wife and kid; writing as much as I can and trying to get as many of these stories out of my craw in some form or another.
The first book I wrote was a 270,000-word dark fantasy epic about schizophrenia, a mythological world next door, and Jungian Archetypes of dream. It lives in a dark box. My first published book was a contemporary fantasy YA crossover that has a sequel coming soon.
Right now I’m writing a screenplay.
DJ: What is Cold Counsel about?
Chris: My editor, the brilliant Jen Gunnels, described it as “Conan the Barbarian as written by Tolkien while on a cocaine and petroleum bender,” which may give a keener insight into the tone than what you’ll get on the cover.
At heart, it’s a simple coming of age tale about a boy, his aunt, and his ax.
The boy is the last troll to survive the genocide of his race, his aunt is the masked reincarnation of an ancient goddess consumed by anger, and the ax is a possessed relic from the storied age of giants.
There are no humans or easy heroes to hold to, but I hope you’ll find yourself rooting for a loveable band of bloodthirsty killers, and wishing for more at the story’s close.
It’s fast, furious fun for the whole family, if the family isn’t afraid of harsh language, brutal violence, and reveling in the fodder of nightmares.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Cold Counsel?
Chris: A youth spent playing RPGs and making movies with my friends probably influences everything I write.
In terms of literary influences, I had in mind Richard Stark’s Parker series, with the intention of emulating that unstoppable criminal anti-hero style, but through the lens of a sort of gonzo, grimdark Tolkien.
I borrow and steal from everything I read, watch, and experience. I love movies and television, and enjoy trying to write for screen as well. My book writing can sometimes get a little light on the description because of it, and my screenplays tend to be a little too wordy.
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?
Chris: I really love these characters, and at least partially believe that they may be real, and that I am merely acting as conduit to tell their tale. SLUD, the protagonist, was first summoned through the rolling of dice for an RPG campaign in the seventh grade. I used to doodle his picture in my notebooks and write epic verse in his honor. In a sense, he was the childhood imaginary friend I was never able to shake.
He was, in some ways, the hardest character to write. I wanted him to be somewhat unknowable as he slowly builds toward a self-discovery that doesn’t fully materialize in this novel. He’s the last of his race, and has led an entirely sheltered existence—equally innocent and calculating—but there is a sense of self and a twisted moral code that even Aunt Agnes’s torments could never tame or break. Most of the insights into his character come from outside perspectives, but I still wanted to make him likeable, and someone that the reader wants to travel along with.
Aunt Agnes is a lot of fun, as she is actually more like four characters in one. Though she starts as an old, shriveled trollhag, Agnes becomes someone new part way through the story. And both incarnations of Agnes are only shells of far older and more powerful spirits from a lost age of Norse Mythology.
Perhaps my favorite character to write was Neither-Nor – a very hard to kill, misanthropic goblin from a wiped out clan, whose only reason to keep on living is to take-out as many others as possible before his days are done. He’s covered head to toe in scarred runic letters that enable his body to regenerate from physical harm. He uses his signature cap to sop up the blood of the dead—and though he doesn’t know it yet in this story, Neither-Nor will become the founding goblin of the Redcap Clan. His ceaselessly negative, vitriolic spew was cathartic to write, and I loved trying to make him oddly lovable despite it.
We also have a talking wolf, goblin warlocks, an alcoholic king, an obsessive runt with a speech impediment, a mute cannibal, an ancient water faerie, and more. It was a fun world to put together.
DJ: What is the world or setting of Cold Council like?
Chris: It’s intentionally left a little ambiguous. It’s a slowly dying Dream world that is loosely connected to our own—filled with the remnants of old myths—primarily Norse mythology around the mountain, where this story takes place. But there are hints of Greek, Roman, and other traditions if you look closely, and I hope/plan to expand from there.
The Mountain is cold, harsh, and brutal—governed by warring goblin clans and packs of wolves. Faeries and animals of various types dot the woods, and all are aware of the far off Elven Courts whose power, and at times brutality, eclipses and governs events across the world.
The workings of magic still hold sway over technology, but like with the old legends of gods and giants, that too is slowly fading from memory.
DJ: I’ve heard that Aunt Agnes’ raising of Slud is pretty brutal and there is a ton of challenges and tests that he must go through.
Can you give a teaser as to what some of these challenges are and why it is the Aunt Agnes is so brutal with it?
Chris: SLUD had a pretty rough childhood. He is the last known representative of the troll race, raised in a hidden cleft of forest on the side of a mountain by his Aunt Agnes, the only person he’d ever known. He doesn’t really know how bad he has it—trained since his first year to withstand pain, defy the elements, and develop both physical and mental strength in the face of ever-increasingly extreme circumstances.
Things like being dosed with powerful hallucinogens before being buried alive for a few days; having his head held down in a barrel of water until he learns how not to drown; being blinded and cut without warning before getting kicked outside in the middle of a blizzard.
Twenty years later, when the story starts, he has been drowned, burned, frozen, charmed, drugged and tortured to such degree that his body and mind are densely woven scar tapestries – cultivated and molded for revenge.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Cold Council?
Chris: My heart has always been drawn to dark fantasy, but I spent a few years writing contemporary stories with half a mind for younger readers and the librarians that guide them. I love those too, but I revel in fully embracing mythic struggles and fantastical beings. I’ve found it very cathartic and even rejuvenating in some ways to let these demons out and in to the world.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Chris: I think they’ll be wondering what the hell they’d just read, but in a good way. It’s a pretty gonzo vantage on some old tropes, but strives for some kind of mythological verisimilitude at the same time. It’s definitely more of a word of mouth book, so I hope that readers find it and talk loud!
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing Cold Counsel? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Chris: At first Cold Counsel was to be an experiment in brevity. The first book I wrote took seven years, was 272,000 words, and still haunts me. My second book was supposed to be short, but grew into a 144,000-word epic with three sequels. I wanted to write something more immediate, and figured I could write my long pondered troll tale as a serialized novella—patterned after the Parker books by Richard Stark.
I tried to write around 10,000 good words every two weeks, and submitted it after the first two chunks were polished. No response from the powers that be. But I was angry at the time, and writing SLUD’s story made me feel better, so I kept going at that pace. The novella turned into a short novel, and it was the most fun I’d ever had writing.
Yes, there is a particular message, meaning, and theme to the book for me, but maybe that’s just for me? Anyone who reads the book—I’d love to discuss further.
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 Cold Council that you can share with us?
Chris: Greatness, legends, and the stories of a lost age were bullshit. Life was about will and luck, and the rare moments when the two coincided—the rest was just suffering, and the fleeting illusion that the suffering abated for a few stolen minutes here and there.
DJ: Now that Cold Counsel is released, what is next for you?
Chris: I’ve completed an early draft of the sequel to my first published thing, and am very excited to get that cleaned up and moving forward. I also hope to be lucky enough to explore more of SLUD’s journey, and I’ve got plenty more stories in me besides those.
Right now I’m writing a screenplay for a horror movie.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page:
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Cold Counsel that we haven’t talked about yet?
Chris: I feel like it’s important to acknowledge the Trolls themselves. That word, ‘troll’, has recently been highjacked by a bunch of petty extremists online, but the roots of the word, and the beings it referred to, are older than Christianity. Like with the ancient Egyptian goddess of love, motherhood, magick, and peace—Isis—I think it’s important to take the roots of these words back from the dangerous zealots who have poisoned them.
The Trolls like the giants were believed to be primeval beings of nature and magic, physical embodiments of elemental forces. There is much debate as to their characteristics and qualities, but even today, there are people about the world who believe in their unseen presence and influence.
Agnes, SLUD, Luther, and Neither-Nor have taken on a life of their own, or maybe they always had it, waiting and watching from a world next door.
With the excellent efforts of some greats like Guillermo del Toro, Neil Gaiman, Disney, and the Internet, TROLLS seem to be having their day—I ask you to keep the old trolls in mind next time you encounter that word, or cross a bridge, or hear the wind howl, or hike into the mountains. I recommend respect. The real trolls have long memories, and their anger burns hot.
But their counsel is cold.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add? (Or add your own question).
Chris: Because of all that I’ve spouted above, I think it disingenuous to hold too tightly to the gospel of these characters. I invite you to draw, paint, and get to know them for yourself. Share further exploits of their struggles, help them to live and roar again. In SLUD we trust!
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Chris: Thank you, greatly, for giving me this chance to wax on about fun topics.
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*** Cold Counsel is published by Tor.com and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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In Chris Sharp’s new epic fantasy Cold Counsel, Slud of the Blood Claw Clan, Bringer of Troubles, was born at the heart of the worst storm the mountain had ever seen. Slud’s father, chief of the clan, was changed by his son’s presence. For the first time since the age of the giants, he rallied the remaining trolls under one banner and marched to war taking back the mountain from the goblin clans.
However, the long-lived elves remembered the brutal wars of the last age, and did not welcome the return of these lesser-giants to martial power. Twenty thousand elves marched on the mountain intent on genocide. They eradicated the entire troll species—save two.
Aunt Agnes, an old witch from the Iron Wood, carried Slud away before the elves could find them. Their existence remained hidden for decades, and in that time, Agnes molded Slud to become her instrument of revenge.
For cold is the counsel of women.
Chris Sharp grew up in the suburban wonderland of Alexandria, VA, where he cut his nerd teeth playing role-playing games and making gore movies with his friends.
He studied English Literature and Anthropology at Brown University, and Mayan Archaeology at the Harvard Field School in Honduras. He then spent sixteen years in Brooklyn, NY, where he worked in film and commercial production by day, and was yet another wannabe novelist by night.
His first book was a 900 page epic fantasy novel that waits in the depths of a dark box. The Elementalists is his second novel, and he really hopes you like it. His third novel, Cold Counsel, is a dark fantasy romp from Tor.com, and if you want, there is more coming soon to both of those stories.
Chris now lives in Concord, MA, with his wife and daughter.