Andy Peloquin writes a lot. He has a massive and impressive output of novels, especially considering he’s only been prominent in the indie Fantasy scene since 2015. His work is also of an incredibly high quality, both from a literary standpoint and an editing one, and his creative vision is epic in scale and ambition.
His world which to date has been fleshed out with intricate detail in three series, Hero Of Darkness, Queen Of Thieves, and Heirs of Destiny offers a combination of Grimdark Fantasy, Assassin action, and traditional high Fantasy, all while offering Easter eggs to his readers through references to other series and well placed character appearances.
Aside from having written over 15 novels with many more coming in 2019, he’s also Fantasy Focus’ own Six-and-a-half foot Chief Administrator, intimidating spammers since 2018, and he hosts a regular video podcast every Thursday night with Fantasy Author Stevie Collier called Fantasy Fiends. Andy is in the process of completing the first book of yet another career milestone, a character based Military Fantasy set in the same world as his current work.
I got a chance to talk to Andy about his work and here is that interview
ME: Your Hero of Darkness series recently got a rebranding. Can you explain how the series started, and why you chose to go with new titles and cover designs?
AP: The series started out under the title “The Last Bucelarii”—chosen because the Hunter of Voramis is, in fact, the last of his kind, a race of half-demons known as Bucelarii. The covers were originally very “hard rock”, with simple black, white, and red sketches that looked like something off a heavy metal cover.But, over the years of publishing, I came to realize that the covers just weren’t selling the books the way I wanted. There wasn’t enough detail on the cover to give readers a real sense of what the books were about, or anything making it clear that it was epic fantasy. And, given how many people struggled to pronounce the word “Bucelarii”, I knew it was time to change the name.The name “Hero of Darkness” is perfect for the character. Despite the fact that he is a half-demon assassin with a cursed dagger that drives him to kill, deep down (like REALLY deep down) there is a “hero” in him. Ultimately, he wants to do the right thing, he just doesn’t always know what it is. And, throughout the course of his trials and tests, he learns to become a hero. A violent, murder-y assassin, but still a hero in his own way.
ME: How did you come up with your world? Did you have a plan from the start to have multiple series all taking place in the same world and all interacting with each other or did that sort of happen as you began writing?
AP: I actually started the world in just the city of Voramis from Darkblade Assassin. From there, I knew I wanted the Hunter to go traveling the world in search of his past, so I expanded the world one book at a time: Malandra in Darkblade Outcast; Azmaria, Nysl, Drash, the Advanat Desert, and Twelve Kingdoms in Darkblade Protector; Kara-ket and the lands of the Hrandari in Darkblade Seeker; and so on.But when I sat down to write my second series, the Queen of Thieves, I knew I wanted to tie it into my already-created world. Not only because it saved me from having to do a lot of worldbuilding, but because I loved how Marvel and DC Comics set all of their stories in the same world. I decided I’d do the same.Thus was born the idea to not only have my characters share the same world, but actually cross over with each other—just like Marvel does, and just like I LOVE when reading comics. The first proper crossover came in Thief of the Night Guild, when the main character Ilanna travels to the city of Voramis and is warned to stay off the rooftops because it’s “the Hunter of Voramis’ domain”. She also meets the Hunter’s alchemist friend, Graeme, and ultimately steals the alchemical clay that is used to make the Hunter’s masks.From there, I was absolutely hooked on trying to find more ways to make my stories cross over. The Bloody Hand (criminal gang) is the Hunter’s antagonists in Darkblade Assassin, and they made the perfect antagonist for Ilanna in the Queen of Thieves. From there, it was a short step to writing Traitors’ Fate and finding a way for Ilanna to actually be indirectly responsible for everything that happens to the Hunter. Her hiring him to kill a nobleman is what sets off his enmity with the Bloody Hand, which is the catalyst for his journey. Then came Darkblade Justice, when I had the Hunter and Ilanna actually meet—by popular demand from my readers who loved both characters equally. Then came the idea for a young adult spin-off, and both series had characters that fit the bill perfectly. It’s a huge thrill to find ways to bring the stories together and blend them into each other. I love how it makes everything feel connected, like a small part of a larger story. That, for me, is one of the greatest joys of setting it all in the same world.
ME: One of the things I love about your Hero of Darkness is the time we get to spend in the mind of the MC. He’s truly a conflicted character and fascinating to read about. How much of yourself do you put in to the characters that you write? Any examples?
AP: When I set out to write the Hunter, I was pretty certain I had little in common with this half-demon killer-for-hire. But as he came to life, I found more and more of myself filtering into his story. I’ve spent much of my life as an outcast (thanks to my Autism Spectrum Disorder), so it came naturally to put in the Hunter’s desire to find his place in a world where he doesn’t belong. We all wrestle with our own “inner demons”—it just happens the Hunter’s literally ARE demons.With every book, I found myself identifying more and more with the Hunter. Not the killer (though it was very cathartic to write his fight scenes), but the man beneath. The struggling man, the one who puts up a façade to protect himself from the world he doesn’t quite understand. The Hunter is very much a part of who I am, masked in the disguise of an assassin far more bad-ass than I really am.
ME: Heirs of Destiny was a major project with 5 long multi-POV novels released in a very short time frame. Why did you decide to go this route? What were some of the challenges of writing the series? What were some things you really enjoyed about it?
AP: I wanted to go this route for two reasons:1) I wanted something that younger readers could enjoy. All of my other series to date have been DARK, and I’ve often had to tell parents not to let their younger teens read them. Heirs of Destiny is the series written to give younger audiences a taste of my word. 2) I wanted to tie both the Hero of Darkness and Queen of Thieves series together, and I had all these young, strong, fascinating characters whose stories needed to be told. It was just too perfect to have them struggling to find their own destiny after living in the shadow of giants like the Hunter of Voramis and Ilanna, Queen of the Night Guild.The biggest challenge was writing four Point-of-View characters in the same city at the same time. I had to not only jump back and forth between each character and give them their agency and emotional development (which required a lot of brain-power), but I had to make sure their stories aligned and their timelines fit. Let’s just say it’s not a challenge I will take up again lightly!But I really enjoyed being able to explore the world through the eyes of these younger characters. Instead of the darkness and cynicism expected from older, hardened characters, these young people still had a much more positive, “good” outlook on life. It was nice to be able to write lighter, brighter fantasy.
ME: For those wanting to jump in to your world, how would you suggest they do it while keeping with the chronology you intended?
AP: If you’ve seen the Star Wars movies, you know there’s two ways to do this: chronologically or according to the world created.
• Queen of Thieves 1-3
• Traitors’ Fate
• Hero of Darkness 1-7
• Heirs of Destiny 1-5
This gives you an accurate chronological timeline of the events of the world.
• Hero of Darkness 1-6
• Queen of Thieves 1-3
• Traitors’ Fate
• Hero of Darkness 7
• Heirs of Destiny
In my opinion, this was the way I imagined the world, so it seems the most balanced approach. You get a great sense of the story at large, the scope of this world I’ve created, then you get to enjoy the thrilling characters that share the world with the Hunter. But, both reading orders make for one hell of an adventure spanning 16 books and growing!
ME: What was your experience like with the 2018 SPFBO competition? How did you decide on the book to enter with so much choice? And is it something you plan to pursue again?
AP: When entering the SPFBO, I had to submit a Book 1 of a series. At the time, I only had Darkblade Assassin and Child of the Night Guild. I know that Child of the Night Guild is a bit dark for a lot of readers, so Darkblade Assassin seemed the better choice. Darkblade Assassin didn’t quite resonate with the judges, but it did get an excellent review and quality feedback. I think out of the 30 books in its category, its ranking was among the Top 5 or Top 8, so it was awesome to know the judges did enjoy the story even if it felt a bit too dark for them at times.And yes, I absolutely intend to enter SPFBO 2019! I’ll have The Silent Champions Book 1 published by then, and I’ve got high hopes that it will be well-received. Even if I don’t win, just being able to participate again is an absolute thrill.
ME: If you had to pick a favorite novel that you’ve currently written, which would it be and why?
AP: Man, tough call! Instead of “favorite written”, let’s go with “favorite published”. I’d say either Thief of the Night Guild or Queen of the Night Guild. Thief was an epic Ocean’s 11-style heist that was one hell of a fun time to write, and it makes a kick-ass read. Queen is much darker and more revenge-driven, but that was the first time I got to see all of my awesome plot threads from Books 1 and 2 come together beautifully. Plus, it has one of my favorite scenes of all times!
ME: Who are some of your biggest influences in the Fantasy genre, and what have you read recently that has blown your mind?
AP: My biggest influences are probably Brandon Sanderson (his world, the scope of his stories, and his sheer imagination blow me away) and Scott Lynch (his humor, characters, and plots are my “gold standard”). But it was David Weber’s Safehold series that made me want to write bigger military stories, and I’d say that was the last book/series that really blew me away.
ME: What is the key to your prolificacy? How are you able to write such immensely high quality work at such a fast pace?
AP: It’s a combination of fast typing (90ish accurate WPM), long hours spent sitting (20ish hours a week), a clear outlined path of where I want the story to go, and the confidence that comes with writing a lot. I don’t second-guess myself half as much as I used to, and I’ve developed a sort of trust that even if I can’t figure out where a story or plot point is going at the moment, I will figure it out and it will fit within my world. I’ve come to trust the creative part of my brain, and it helps me to write without doubting my story choices.I can’t speak to the quality of my writing, but I will say that my #1 drive is to make the story as good as I can. I care about the characters, the world, the accuracy of everything I include into it, and the emotional and psychological aspects of the story. So I make sure that I do a lot of research beforehand to understand everything I can. When I sit down and write, it just flows out because I’m so full up on the subject.
ME: When you aren’t writing, what takes up most of your time and how do you manage to balance your life with your writing regimen?
AP: I’m actually pretty good at “being done when I’m done”. Don’t get me wrong: it’s hard to shut off the creative brain, and I often find myself writing down ideas while driving, shopping, trying to sleep, even at the gym.But I know how much time I’ve got to put into the job, and how much I can reasonably expect of myself to get done in that time. Once I reach my self-imposed goal or deadline, I’ve trained myself to stand up and walk away from the keyboard. I don’t feel the urgent drive to push harder because I know I’ll have tomorrow to keep working at it.I still put in long hours of work—most days I’m working at 6 AM and, with only a few meal and brain-resting breaks during the day, I finish anywhere between 5 and 6:30 PM. But once I finish a task, it’s easy for me to get up and walk away.
ME: What one piece of advice would you be able to offer new writers?
AP:Take your time to make it great! My first self-published book (which will not be named) was released in a hurry because I wanted to get my name out there. The fact that it’s no longer in existence is proof that I rushed things and didn’t do the job right.At the same time, that was a huge learning experience because it showed me how much more I needed to work at making my stories great. So, when I sat down to write what is now Darkblade Assassin, I made sure to take my time to get it right, to really build the world properly, to get a proper sense of the character I created and wanted readers to fall in love with. The fact that it’s my best-selling book of all time proves that it’s always best to work the story until it’s done right, no matter how long it takes.
ME: I’ve heard about Silent Champions which I expect to be massive. How does it fit in to your world and what can we expect?
AP: I’m seeing Silent Champions as a “Rainbow Six/Ghost Ops” set in my fantasy world. A team of specially-chosen, elite military operatives from my Roman-style Legion are chosen to work behind the scenes on impossible missions to defeat overwhelming odds and turn the tide of war in their favor.
The main character, Aravon, is a Captain who watched his company slaughtered in an ambush by the enemy, and he accepts the offer of his Prince to remain “dead to the world” so he can operate in total secrecy. His team is made up exactly like a modern spec-ops team: an axe-wielding giant (heavy machine gun), a healer and shaman (medic), scout, sniper (elite archer), alchemical genius (demolitions), native-born hunter/tracker/soldier (rifleman), and the Captain himself (officer/gunner).
The series is set on a continent across the Frozen Sea, south of the mainland continent of Einan (where all the other stories take place). It’s set during the Eirdkilr Wars, a war with seven-foot-tall barbarians who are trying to push out the mainlanders that invaded their land centuries earlier.
Most of the characters are native to the continent of Fehl, and it’s a story about their fight to put an end to the war and bring peace to their lands. But I still found ways to tie it into my other stories, even if it’s a continent away!The soldiers who come to fight this war are primarily mainlanders who serve in the Legion of Heroes—sort of soldiers-for-hire, but trained to the level of a proper military force and driven by a desire to serve the Swordsman, god of heroism (monetary, military, and religious motivations combined). The fact that they’re from the main continent means I get to bring characters from my other stories into the world.Anyone who has read Queen of Thieves will immediately recognize Captain Elodon Phonnis (from Silent Champions 1), who is the Duke Phonnis that serves as Ilanna’s primary antagonist. Fans of the Hunter will find he makes an appearance (either in person or his handiwork) in Silent Champions 3, as does a few of my favorite characters from Heirs of Destiny. Silent Champions 2 features a few characters who will appear in a future series (see details below). And, not to spoil the story, but Book 4 has a face that every long-time reader of mine will immediately recognize!
ME: Aside from this series can you see anything else already looming on the horizon in terms of new work?
AP: So I’ve got three projects that I’m kicking around for completion next:• Hero of Darkness 8 to ?? – I need to finish the Hunter’s story and give him a second story arc to complete the mission he signed up for in Darkblade Savior (Hero of Darkness 6). World-shattering stuff that is going to have long-term consequences, so it’s a story that definitely needs to be told.• Unnamed Prison Story – This will be set in the city where my alchemically superior steel comes from, and I intend to make it a bit of flintlock fantasy (primitive gunpowder weapons). However, it’s going to take a bit of work to get it ready to write.• Unnamed Bounty Hunter Story – This one’s a bit more fleshed out in terms of characters and an outline, but I still don’t know if that’s the route I want to go.I won’t be able to start writing anything new until late 2019, so I’ve got enough time to figure out my next step.
ME: How important is reader interaction to you? Do you find it helps with your sales and marketing strategy?
AP: It’s my favorite part! I love checking my Facebook ads to see what people comment—both the good and the bad. Good comments are always nice, and it’s wonderful to know that readers connect with my stories. But the bad comments are kind of fun—I take it as my personal challenge to convert them into readers. You’d be surprised by how well it works!And it’s amazing how much of an influence fans can be. I wrote Traitors’ Fate, Darkblade Justice, and the Heirs of Destiny series because of comments my fans made—about wanting to see Ilanna and the Hunter face off, or how much they loved the young characters. Some of my most hardcore readers have been drafted to beta-read stories, or I’ll ask them for advice about their areas of interest/expertise.Readers are what this business is all about. Even if I never make a sale through the time I spend connecting with readers, it’s a thrill to share this work of art I’ve created with others who enjoy it as well.
ME: Im a huge fan of Fantasy Fiends, your video podcast with Stevie Collier. How did it come to be? What do you guys aim for with the podcast and why should we be watching?
AP: Stevie actually reached out to me, said he really enjoyed Darkblade Assassin and it inspired him to write his own novel, The Four Territories (Dark Assassin Book 1). We got to talking, and he watched a few of the live readings I did in my Facebook group. When he pitched the idea of doing a fantasy podcast together, I was totally intrigued by the idea. I could do my readings and talk about fantasy stuff, and let him handle all the business! Hehe, don’t tell him I said that.The Fantasy Fiends Podcast is a place where we have fun discussing all things fantasy—not just the stories, but the emotions, feelings, thoughts, and psychologies behind the stories and the characters. We delve into the more sensitive topics: humanity, religion, race, sexuality, gender, politics, and more, all through the context of a fantasy world. I want to believe that our discussions on these topics brings a bit more positivity to our world and helps people connect with us and our stories on a deeper level because of it.Plus, we have a blast doing live readings of our authors’ books. I get to break out my best (worst) accents and reenact new stories every week. It’s the most fun a job could be!
ME: What do you hope people get from your novels? Is there an underlying theme you are trying to convey in your writing?
AP: Absolutely! I want people to walk away from my stories feeling hopeful. The world I’ve written is dark—just as the world around us—and filled with all manner of hardships, suffering, pain, and loss. But, at the end of the day, if my characters can emerge from their challenges alive and better for them, then there’s hope that we, the reader, can as well.That sense of hopefulness is my main priority. At the end of the day, I want people to put down my books and feel better because their world can be brighter and happier one day. I want readers to feel hope that no matter how dark things are now, they will be better if they just hang on and keep fighting.