Today I am interviewing Jon Hollins, author of the new epic fantasy novel, Bad Faith, final book in The Dragon Lords trilogy.
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DJ: Hi Jon!! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Jon Hollins: Hi! Thanks so much for having me here. As for who I am… well, probably the first thing to reveal is that the name Jon Hollins is a lie. Or as some people would call it, a pseudonym. My real name is Jonathan Wood, and I’m an Englishman living in New York. I work in advertising by day, and write by… well, “night” would be the cool way to finish that sentence, but mostly it’s on my commute each day. Prior to writing The Dragon Lords, I wrote four urban fantasy novels under my own name. The first of that series is No Hero.
DJ: What is Bad Faith and then The Dragon Lords trilogy about?
Jon: Bad Faith is the story of a group friends (of questionable morality and intelligence) most of whom have found themselves dead at the hands of a despotic and chronically drunk deity. It charts their journey all the way from the underworld to the heavens themselves as they struggle to get revenge, and to free their homeland from tyranny. There are hijinks and mishaps along the way—as there tend to be in these sorts of things—including their decision to team up with a small army of dragons, which simplifies attacking a god, but complicates pretty much everything else.
This being the third and concluding volume of The Dragon Lords, these events obviously building on a lot of things that have happened before. The first book, Fool’s Gold, charts the way the friends come together, initially as little more than a group of wannabe thieves, and then as accidental leaders of a revolution against evil dragon overlords. Then in False Idols, the same bunch of fools find themselves in an expanded fight for their whole world as the dragons come back in a bid to rule not just the land, but the very heavens. That’s when the gods start to get involved, and things go rapidly downhill for everyone from there.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Dragon Lords trilogy?
Jon: The whole series is really heavily influenced by the epic fantasies I read as a kid in the eighties. Or at least, my nostalgic remembrance of those books. But because of that, I always want to write books about groups of friends going out and having adventures. That’s true of both my urban fantasy novels and The Dragon Lords trilogy. Things like the Hobbit, and The DragonLance Chronicles had a huge influence on epic fantasy meaning that to me.
There’s also some humor in the books. Well… I hope there’s humor in the books. But if you’re going to write humorous fantasy it’s pretty much impossible to not acknowledge the impact of Terry Pratchett. He was a titan, and you’re always writing in that shadow, but it’s such a good shadow to be in.
And then there’s the esoteric stuff. I love trashy airport thrillers, and I learned a lot of pacing stuff from that. I tend to write short chapters, and that comes from those. Also my love of Lovecraftian and Weird fiction definitely starts to sneak into this book more than it has the others in the series.
Plus there’s RPGs. And video games. And… I’ll stop now.
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?
Jon: So the cast for Bad Faith is: Will, a former farmer with a knack for devising surprisingly successful schemes; Lette, a mercenary whose quick with knives, and quicker with her tongue, and who’s Will’s on-again, mostly off-again girlfriend; Balur, an eight-foot tall lizard man, who enjoys murdering both people and basic grammar; Quirk, an academic turned resistance fighter who is deeply uncomfortable with her own magical abilities; Afrit, another former professor, Quirk’s girlfriend, and about the only character in the books with a functional moral compass; and, Cois, the hermaphroditic former god(dess) of love who is now busy introducing Balur to the benefits of monogamy.
I’ve referred to them as friends, but they’re also a highly dysfunctional group, all battling their own insecurities and hang-ups as much as they’re battling any external forces. Well… all except Balur. Balur fixes all problems in life by punching them in the face, so that simplifies things for him a lot.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Dragon Lords trilogy like?
Jon: This series being my first foray into epic fantasy, I wanted to keep the world pretty simple for myself. If you think of your standard D&D world, Avarra probably matches up pretty closely. That said, it’s grown substantially over the course of the trilogy. Starting out, Fool’s Gold was pretty much limited to one small corner of Avarra. False Idols opened that up to about fifty percent of the main continent. With Bad Faith I’m taking readers on an almost a complete tour of the world, plus the underworld, and the heavens. So in terms of scope is much wider book. This is the concluding tome after all.
The gods are probably the most unique aspect of the world I built. They’re heavily influenced by Greek mythology, and my general belief that deeper you delve into it, the more and more messed up you realize it is. There’s incest, and casual murder absolutely everywhere. So it was really fun to take some of those more chaotic elements, and blow them up, and magnify them, and make that the main focus of my gods.
Also—and the name of the series may have given this away—but there are a lot of dragons.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first two books of The Dragon Lords trilogy? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Jon: For the most part, people have been very kind. Of course you can never please everybody, and there will always be that Amazon review that reads “Awful, childish, drivel” to haunt me in my dreams. But both previous books have picked up starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, and a lot of people seem to have responded to them really positively. The humor seems to have landed for a lot of people, as well as most of the emotional punches I tried to throw. Getting that balance right can be tricky, so it’s nice to know that worked. Also I took the rather obnoxious step of ending False Idols on a cliffhanger, so I think a lot of the fans of the series are anxious to know how that resolves, and how the journey the book’s antagonist (the god, Barph) has been on works out.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Bad Faith?
Jon: The characters. For me, it has to be the characters. Their interactions, their willingness to mock each other mercilessly. They’re the engines that drive the whole book. They’re the voices that live in my head for a year at a time. I have to have fun hanging out with them to commit to a novel. And I really, really have.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Jon: So, the one thread I’ve noticed through a lot of the reviews has probably been the chapter titles. It has sort of become a thing. For the most part I try to keep the humor in the books very organic to the plot. I don’t like to step out of the narrative and nod and wink at what’s going on too much. (There may be one “arrow to the knee” reference in Bad Faith for the Skyrim fans out there, but that’s it). But with the chapter titles I allow myself to be a little referential, and a lot more tongue-in-cheek. For example, in this book I think “In Which Lette Is Full of Shit” is followed pretty immediately by “How to Make Friends and Influence Psychopaths.”
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing The Dragon Lords trilogy? Was 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?
Jon: In my mind (though perhaps in no-one else’s) the three books all deal with themes of greed and power, and the intersection of those two forces. To me, it seems that those are the two forces that most affect our day-to-day lives, and I think that a lot of work is done to mask that. (I am not, by the way, proposing some sort of shadowy cabal manipulating the world. I think it’s much more benign than that. I think people and businesses have just figured out how to package self-serving ends and present them with a smiling face. We call it marketing). But anyway, to me dragons—with their massive physical might, and their proclivity for hoarding shiny objects—struck me as the perfect metaphor for that intersection, and gave me a great way to foreground it. And then it was just enormous fun to chart the journey of people who were sick of living in a world where they have no power, and no money, and their transformation from people who are trying to get those things into people who are trying to tear the whole system down.
DJ: I’m always curious when authors finish a series, how close to the original course they stayed when it is finally completed or if it ended up evolving and changing. Did the plot stay the same as you had first imagined it? How about the ending? The evolution of your characters?
Jon: I’m a huge fan of novel planning, but I only plan one novel at a time so the shape of the series has definitely evolved over time. When I first launched into Fool’s Gold I had no idea I was going to end up with a fight for the very heavens. The arc of the antagonist Barph, which has come to be a fairly definitive part of the trilogy, really wasn’t in place when I first handed in Fool’s Gold. But then I planned out False Idols, while my editor had Fool’s Gold, and the shape started to become clear. I had to go back into the book and start laying down a few seeds for the full trilogy at that point. So it was around the start of book two that I began to have a rough sense of how Bad Faith would look, even if the specifics were fuzzy.
Character evolution is always a difficult question for me. I think I get too close to the characters, so the changes they go through just feel organic to me. Also, I don’t think anyone ever really resolves their flaws over the course of my books. It’s rather that they make peace with them, and learn how to use them to their advantage. And I think everyone in The Dragon Lords ended up doing something that served a goal bigger than their own personal ambition, so overall… I’m proud of them for that.
In terms of the actual ending itself—I’ve always written pretty action-heavy, plot-driven books so I knew there was going to be a big battle, but it was the chapter after that one—the denouement—that was the really tricky one to write. I had always imagined some big scene with a lot of characters all slapping each other on the back, and being jolly—a sort of inverse of the opening of The Hobbit. In the end, though, it ended up being a much smaller, intimate scene than I originally expected. Still, I’m really happy with it, and I think it encapsulates some of the more positive aspects of the book. Hopefully people like it, and feel that it’s satisfying.
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 Bad Faith that you can share with us?
Jon: This is normally the point where I share a crass joke from the books (“He woke with a noise like pig having an orgasm” is still a personal favorite from Bad Faith) but for once I’ll share something a bit more meaningful from near the end of the book. At this point, a lot of terrible things have happened to Will and he’s considering just giving up. But Afrit has some wisdom to share with him:
“Life,” she said, “will continuously beat you down. Over and over and over again it will strike you in the face and smash you to the floor. Each and every one of us. Not just you. Not just me. And all we ever get to do, Will, is decide whether to curl up into a ball and give in to the beating, or get back up and meet it standing on our own two feet.”
DJ: Now that Bad Faith is released, what is next for you?
Jon: Right now, I’m working on a post-apocalyptic novel, wherein terrible things happen to people who live in New Jersey. That’s keeping me out of trouble.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Jon: I am (much, I suspect, to my publisher’s chagrin) pretty terrible about maintaining an online presence. Still, I do (much, I suspect, to my employer’s chagrin) spend a lot of time on social media:
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Bad Faith and The Dragon Lords trilogy that we haven’t talked about yet?
Jon: Just that a novel doesn’t happen in isolation. That it’s the result of a tremendous amount of hard work by the team at Orbit, and the artists who did the covers and the map. That it’s a long slog that requires the support of friends (shout out to the Broken Circles writing group!) and family. And that I’m tremendously grateful to all of those people.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Jon: Just a brief thank you to everyone whose read the book, and either reached out to me, or left a review on Goodreads, or Amazon, or on Reddit, on their blog. Reviews and word-of-mouth really are the life blood of novels. Just simply taking the time to let people know, “I read this and I enjoyed it,” can make a huge difference. So to everyone who has done that for me – you guys rock.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Jon: Thank you!
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Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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Guardians of the Galaxy meets the Hobbit in this rollicking fantasy adventure.
Will and his comrades went to war to overthrow the reign of dragons, winning battle after battle, and acclaim as conquering heroes.
But now they’ve angered the gods, and may just need the dragons to help them this time…
“Jon Hollins is a one-of-a-kind storyteller, a master of epic fun and nonstop action.” – Nicholas Eames, author of Kings of the Wyld
Jon Hollins is a pseudonym for urban fantasy author Jonathan Wood whose debut novel (No Hero) was described by Publishers Weekly as a funny, dark, rip-roaring adventure with a lot of heart, highly recommended for urban fantasy and light science fiction readers alike. Barnesandnoble.com listed it has one of the 20 best paranormal fantasies of the past decade, and Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels described it as, so funny I laughed out loud. His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Chizine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, as well as anthologies such as The Book of Cthulhu 2 and The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year One.