Today I am interviewing N.S. Dolkart, author of the new epic fantasy novel, A Breach in the Heavens, final book in The Godserfs series.
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DJ: Hi N.S! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
N.S: Sure! I’m an author, Israeli Folk dancer, and cooking enthusiast from the Boston suburbs. I’ve read a lot of Torah in my time, and have many opinions about it, some of them delightfully blasphemous. I have a tremendous amount of fun and I can’t get away from myself, so I must be fun to be around, right?
DJ: What is A Breach in the Heavens and then The Godserfs series about?
N.S: The trilogy follows a group of foreign refugees as they seek community, safety, and meaning on an unwelcoming continent, choosing which gods to appease and which to defy and just generally trying to survive when it seems like everyone in heaven and on earth might have it in for them. And that’s not to mention the fairies, who definitely want to eat them.
In the first book, Silent Hall, the main characters stuck together for safety and comfort while doing everything they could to avoid getting squashed by some god or other. They made some questionable choices, but seemed to come out of it okay.
In the second, Among the Fallen, they split up to pursue individual goals, sometimes to disastrous effect, but still managed to keep it together and even advance in the world, for all the danger that that entails.
Now, in the final book, their questionable choices from Silent Hall really come back to bite them as they seem to have unwittingly set an apocalypse in motion. They’ve all got their separate power bases and their separate ideas for how best to respond, and their allies are pushing them in different directions too. Something’s got to give, and, um, that “something” might well be the sky?
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Godserfs series?
N.S: That terrifying Bible, man. God smites people for messing up their sacrifices (Nadav & Avihu), for pulling out (Onan), for having good reflexes (Uzzah); he almost kills MOSES without any explanation at all, until Moses’ wife Tziporah circumcises their son and that does the trick for some reason. Besides just the terror of having God around, the Torah is a henotheistic text: it suggests that there exist many gods, but that ours is the biggest and the coolest. But oh yeah, God will also smite you for worshiping any of those other Totally Real gods. At least he also protects you (see, for example, kings Saul or David)… that is, until one day he doesn’t (see… oh boy. Kings Saul or David). There’s so much in there to be fascinated and horrified by.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the the The Godserfs series like?
NS: The theology and religions are directly based on Biblical theology and religion, with a smattering of other Mediterranean influences and a little bit of early Christianity too. But the thing is, all those gods are real and active, so wherever goes the theology, there go the physics too. The sky is a barrier for holding the heavens in, (a firmament, if you will), and there’s an unregulated underworld where the dead are essentially ignored, at least until some god figures out how to get down there and take over. The elves’ world, built on the still-disturbingly-alive corpse of a primordial plant-monster, stands adjacent to the people’s world through another set of sky-barriers. Its residents conduct occasional raids on humanity, stealing children away and eating them. It’s a charming place.
Society is structured differently depending on geography, with city-states displaying a mix of monarchies, theocracies, republics and democracies all existing side-by-side in obvious tension, each fearing an outbreak of the other. It’s a tense society altogether.
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?
N.S: Phaedra, the driver of much of the action in A Breach, is a disabled theology nerd whose thirst for knowledge takes her into wizardry. She’s kind and thoughtful, but the person she admires most is an utter sociopath.
Hunter is a shy, gentle soul whose life’s ambition was to lead his nation’s army. When his nation is destroyed in his absence, he’s forced to rethink his whole life. That’s fortunate, though, since he’s really cut out neither for war nor leadership.
Narky is a loser, a murderer, and a priest of a god he doesn’t trust. He’s blunt and sarcastic and totally out of his depth, a fan favorite.
Bandu is another fan favorite, raised by a wolf and with no patience for religion or social convention. She thinks the gods should mind their own business and people should be honest with themselves, and what she lacks in her command of grammar she makes up for in insight and power.
Criton is part dragon, and obsessed with discovering and living up to his true heritage. He’s rash and impatient and struggles with anger management — a bad combo for a kid who can breathe fire — but he does his best with the coping skills he has.
Lastly there’s Psander, the last of the academic wizards. Sometimes mentor, sometimes anti-heroine, always trouble. She doesn’t let little things like ethics or morals or other people’s lives get in her way — all she cares about is preserving the legacy of academic wizardry, and if that means people will suffer, so be it. She’ll blackmail her allies. She’ll torture elves. She’ll risk the entire universe to save her little corner of the world. And she’ll do it without regrets or second thoughts.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first two book of the The Godserfs series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
N.S: The reviews have been pretty positive! One funny thing is that a bunch of people thought that Silent Hall‘s slow pace was a sign of my being a first-time author rather than an artistic choice and a fundamental part of the story I was telling. Which, look, I’m not saying my artistic choices are always flawless, but they’re still choices! Unusually heavy character focus isn’t one of the common rookie mistakes people make when plotting a novel.
The other thing that jumped out at me about the reviews was that the people who did get what I was doing in Silent Hall, with its meandering plot and strong focus on group dynamics, were also the saddest when the characters split up in Among the Fallen. It was kind of cute, really. These reviewers all admitted that it made sense for the group to dissolve, and that it would have been limiting to keep everyone together, but they missed those group interactions anyway and yearned to have the band get back together.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing A Breach in the Heavens?
N.S: Figuring out how to stick the landing. This is the fourth complete novel I’ve written (my first is unpublished, awaiting massive revision), and the first one where there were no books slated to come afterward. So really for the first time, the ending had to feel truly complete. No teasers, no end-of-credits bonus scene, just closure. It was really fun and rewarding to make that happen.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
N.S: I couldn’t guess. Hopefully how awesome it was.
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing The Godserfs series? 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?
N.S: I really wanted to convey how frightening it would be to live in a biblical world, what with all these local gods and rulers trying to kill you, and your own god threatening to kill you too if you screw up somehow. It’s common within ancient Mediterranean religions for people to be better off unnoticed by the gods; for them to see “the gods are watching you” as inherently threatening to themselves and their families. I’ve always found that fascinating, so I wanted to explore that kind of a world.
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?
N.S: If you squint really, really hard, you can see how my original Book 3 outline eventually turned into a single chapter of A Breach in the Heavens. That’s how much I departed from my original plans. The ending of the book and the series didn’t gel until I was physically typing it early this year. But for all that, I’d say it all came out a good deal better than I had imagined it. As someone who doesn’t plot everything out in advance, it really feels like I threw ten balls in the air without knowing how to juggle and then miraculously caught them all.
Of my main characters, I’d say that Criton and Bandu surprised me the most in how they turned out, and their child Goodweather sprang a revelation on me right at the end. The others developed too, of course, but they ended up more or less as I had imagined them while writing Silent Hall.
DJ: Now that A Breach in the Heavens is released, what is next for you?
N.S: I’m currently working on a YA project that’s near to my heart — another epic fantasy, but where the protagonist’s main ambition is to retire from military service with the skills he needs to be a successful homemaker. There will be lots of cooking, especially with the fantasy version of my favorite ingredient, and some unexpected babysitting too. It’ll be really fun.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Author Newsletter: https://nsdolkart.wordpress.com/news/
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about A Breach in the Heavens and The Godserfs series that we haven’t talked about yet?
N.S: I’d like people to know what a wonderful process it was working with the artistic team at Angry Robot, from my cover artist Andreas Rocha to the former North American sales manager and now freelance author-consultant Mike Underwood, to the big man himself, Marc Gascoigne. They really centered me in the process of figuring out the cover art, including sending me drafts of it along the way. They let me write the artist’s brief for A Breach in the Heavens myself, so that the cover came out just exactly as I had envisioned it except more beautiful because Andreas is an amazing artist. When Marc had concerns over the length of my title, I wrote him an email explaining my logic for wanting it to be called what it is, and he fiddled with the formatting until it worked. For all three books, Marc essentially let me write the back-cover summary myself, just adding clever little changes here and there. I owe them all such a debt of gratitude, especially since I have friends who were basically handed their covers with a “you’ll take this and you’ll like it.”
DJ: Out of curiosity: are you still writing these novels at 3 a.m. with your laptop on your knees and your child sleeping on your chest? XD
N.S: Haha, thankfully no! Mostly because both my children are too big now, but also because I got very very lucky and my wife and I were able to switch places day job-wise. So now I’m a stay-at-home dad, and for the 12 hours a week that my younger one is in preschool, I can write during daylight hours! It’s a mind-blowing difference.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
N.S: My pleasure!
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*** A Breach in the Heavens is published by Angry Robot and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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Wizards war against gods to save the world, in the electrifying conclusion to the Godserfs epic fantasy series.
The End Times have arrived. For over a decade, the sorceress Phaedra has had a single, vital task: to keep the world of the elves separated from humanity’s. But when her world experiences its first skyquake, it’s clear that something is very wrong. Has all Phaedra’s work been for nothing? She’ll need a new plan – and her friends’ help – to keep the worlds from smashing into each other and shredding all of creation.
Unfortunately, not everyone likes the new plan. To the God of the Underworld, destroying creation doesn’t seem like such a bad idea…
I’m a writer of fantasy, represented by Evan Gregory of the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. I like to write, sing, dance, cook, and eat. I do not generally like to blog. So this site is a bit of an experiment.
NS Dolkart is a pen name; you can find the story behind it in the blog archives (It’s in a post helpfully called, “Why N.S. Dolkart?“) or, for the longer, fuller version, scroll past Silent Hall’s cover reveal at the Barnes & Noble Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog.
I have written two novels so far, and am currently working on the sequel to the second. My first novel, The Kingmakers, was begun while I was still in college. It has yet to be published.
My second novel, Silent Hall, came out in June of 2016 from Angry Robot Books. You can already buy it from your favorite independent bookstore! (Or, yes, from Amazon)
If for some reason you would like to contact me, I can be reached at nsdolkart (at) gmail, etc. You can also follow me on Twitter, where I’m N_S_Dolkart. My Facebook page is here.