With us today is author B.A. Ellison, author of the A Tale of Shadow & Shroud series. He shares with us an in depth look at the cautionary tale that is The Dynasty of the Phoenix, the first book in the series, as well as a glimpse into his life. Truly the path he has chosen reflects his personal motto of “Passion. Persistence. Craft.”
Tell me about A Tale of Shadow & Shroud: The Dynasty of the Phoenix.
The Dynasty of the Phoenix is the first entry in A Tale of Shadow and Shroud, a new-adult epic-fantasy series aimed at fantasy readers who’re looking for a darker, more realistic, and more compelling read than what they’re used to . When I grew up reading fantasy novels on my own, I often felt disenchanted by the story on the account of what themes and scenes I felt should have been included within the story but were cut out to appeal to a broader audience. Just within Book One, my readers should be prepared for themes/scenes of sex, violence, trafficking, and drug use. I don’t delight in forcing my readers to endure difficult material, but such material left out or altered would be disingenuous both to the fantasy series I aim to write, and to the readers themselves. I am a strong believer in the agency of readers. One should not force themself to finish something, that which they aren’t enjoying.
This is my second time around with The Dynasty of the Phoenix, as I did self-publish an earlier version in 2015. My 2015 version of The Dynasty of the Phoenix was what I needed it to be when finished, for myself to be drawn to keep dreaming and to continue writing. As it was, if not much else a complete and finished copy of my very first book, which I could hold in my hands. I still think of this day, as one of the proudest moments of my life. However realizing that the book I had written was not nearly good enough to merit the critical reception necessary to make the success I had hoped it would be, was a difficult truth to realize. Coming to such a truth put me on one path over the next several years, which I now stand at the end of now. Only by writing two more sequels to Book One: The Shadow’s Take and The Draven’s Match, could I one day re-write The Dynasty of the Phoenix to the best that it could have ever been in the first place. I hope one day that millions will read and see what I have in A Tale of Shadow and Shroud, since I began writing it over 12 years ago on 1/10/2007.
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
Anyone who has been paying attention to my twitter profile recently knows that these last few months since its creation have been a time of turnover and upheaval for me, but this transformative process has not been without purpose or an end date and goal in mind. While I have many exciting projects laying undone before me on the horizon, if I were a reader (outside of my planned Winter 2020 release of The Dynasty of the Phoenix) I would be most excited for the imminent arrival of my YouTube channel. Without having put together any of the videos just yet, I can’t speak to exactly what it’ll look like. However, being on the cusp of creating a burgeoning YouTube channel is thrilling for me so it should be very interesting to let these next several months play themselves out to see what I can come up with, and how much more of a following I can attract to what my unique sense of wit and perspective has to offer those who will watch, listen, and read.
When writing a sequel, what do you do to keep your story fresh for both yourself and the readers?
When writing a sequel to anything, it’s a complicated balancing act of allowing the plot of the present to build the impact of the conclusion. For myself, naturally this included the exploration of new characters and settings which is very exciting. However, I also enjoy in structuring my world of Rehem with more depth and development as well. Never underestimate the compelling nature of a well imagined world being what primarily drives readers to keep coming back to your series for each future book. Magic systems, when done well with a concrete power ladder in mind and logical system of progression with students and veteran mentor characters to show what is possible, I think creates for the best scenario possible. Such is exactly what I plan to do with the 9 other planned book in A Tale of Shadow and Shroud, and is something I hope and believe will set my fantasy series apart from others of the past and contemporary present as well.
Who is your favorite character in the series and why?
As an author, I have my own affections for all of the heroes and my begrudging respects for all of the villains, which I have created to be a part of A Tale of Shadow and Shroud. Upon choosing my favorite character in the series I’m finding it impossible to choose just one, so I’ll select two. I consider Ethan Campbell and Christian Knowles to be the premiere signature characters of the series and my favorites so far. I believe they’re both remarkable characters for their willingness to play their roles, and make the best out of terrible circumstances handed to them at the beginning of the story. Also the two of them have been in my imagination longer than any of the others, so even though there may be other characters I’ve worked on harder, Christian and Ethan work well as my favorites.
What is the key theme or message that you’re trying to express in your books?
I aim to challenge the moralities of each one of my readers. Who are they to say which characters are holy, good, or villainous, based off of their perception of the viewpoint of the character which I brought them into being through? What I mean by this is that you’ll find no Dark Lords or Perfect Heroes between my pages. Every character I write has their own vices and drives, some of which have the potential to be abusive and self-destructive. This also means that every character has not only the ability to, but the incentive to commit acts allover the spectrum of good and evil for various purposes causing various results to be interpreted by my readers in their various ways. I don’t really find myself cheering on any characters in particular, and although I certainly have my affections and ‘hatred’ for the heroes and villains, as the author I try to remain as neutral as possible when allowing the events of Christian’s War which drives A Tale of Shadow and Shroud forward to play out as best as possible.
I find taking this sort of approach to be most interesting because I believe it allows me advantages with my characters over other authors within the genre who have not yet thought of such. Each one of the characters that I’ve created for A Tale of Shadow and Shroud are meaningful to me, and I don’t believe in throwing my characters into the perpetually burning cinder of their ashes from other authors before they’ve had a proper chance to shine, each in their own way. Not all stories end in death. When death for a character is utterly necessary, it ought to be well earned, dramatic, and not overly gratuitous. It’s execution should be shockingly compelling and artfully told, but also well justified upon inflection of the plot progression and various character relationships to the story at that point.
Is there an over arching theme between books or is each going to be a stand alone?
After The Dynasty of the Phoenix, the rest of A Tale of Shadow and Shroud is going to be told through sets of POV characters that are in geographical proximity to each other and therefore form the making of events in Iishrem post the Assault on Minon Cromella (half-way through Book One), and the events in Allirehem post the end of Book One. There are so many more new characters and battles coming in future installments that’ve not yet had their deserved time to shine. Having the chance to make something real out of this which I worked on, sometimes blindly, for so many years has been one [of the] greatest joys in my life to this point. I truly believe the future of this series is bright, and I intend to write out all 10 planned books.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
I’ve come up with a bit of my own little motto, since I left my job in April and started going at this. Passion. Persistence. Craft. Writing never came to me easily. I had such a passion for writing that when I failed so many times early on, it never felt like I had failed so I persisted. Eventually only when I had persisted long enough through enough of my own passion, could I finally get to work on my craft and take this chance (leaving my old job) to bring A Tale of Shadow and Shroud into being properly and for critical reception which I believe it deserves.
What comes first, the plot or the characters?
The scale of A Tale of Shadow and Shroud demanded plot first. Without a well developed plot and steady pacing, no story can move forward effectively well which gives the characters of the story the chance to grow and develop. However, without compelling characters to grow attached to even the best laid plot isn’t enough. I’m a strong believer in the creation of a plot, that forces the characters into action and binds them to grow and develop through its completion. So through that forced development early on, in sequels (or even just at the end of the book’s story-arc) there is justification for writing a character driven plot later on. In my opinion, the most developed characters are the ones whose decisions drive the plot of the book forward, but you don’t even notice because it just seems like it’s within their development as a character.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?
The arduous and for now seemingly futile path of seeking traditional publishing. When I began writing, I don’t think I had any idea how many others like myself. I think it’s wonderful to see so many others out here expressing themselves and presenting their craft and books to those who will read and cherish them. However I think perhaps time for the writing community as a whole to have a conversation as to the role of traditional publishing in today’s changing market. While I believe in traditional publishing as a worthy pursuit and I understand the plight each head of traditional publishing has to suffer (agents, editors, publishers, reviewers) and the necessity of having them around because of their valuable position and insight, I think perhaps it is time we admitted that traditional publishing today is failing authors of great worth and potential at an increasing rate, and therefore damaging the worth of writing books as a whole. Querying The Dynasty of the Phoenix because of it’s complicated journey into being has been a frustrating process.
I believe authors are worthy of more respect and courtesies when going through the process of querying. Many authors die before their work is ever recognized for it’s genius, and this is not a group I aim to find myself a part of. I would expect a serious announcement on republishing The Dynasty of the Phoenix by my intended publishing date of 1/10/2020 to be announced via my twitter around Thanksgiving. I know that The Dynasty of the Phoenix and A Tale of Shadow and Shroud are going to be a great success, and dominating series of the genre over the coming decades. If no agent or indie publisher comes forward soon, I will do what is necessary myself to show this world the A Tale of Shadow and Shroud that I believe in, and the success of my series will be their loss.
What were the key challenges you faced while writing this book?
The sheer scale of time and persistence that such an endeavor demanded, and for no guaranteed pay or that what I would write would be any good anyways. Not to mention the struggles of my own life. I was no good at writing in the beginning, and having not only the patience but interest to learn the proper vernacular and story-telling methods in order to write the best books possible for A Tale of Shadow and Shroud had to be painstakingly self-developed in coordination with a handful of college courses, and small writer’s groups I have been a part of on and off throughout my local area since. I also had to survive a horrific head-on car accident in April of 2013 having narrowly finished the first draft of book one. After I came out of that dark stage in my life, I didn’t pursue sales and recognition because I didn’t believe in the material I had at that moment. For years, I also did what I believe others expected of me. I held down a job in the field of major that I actually went to college for Geography, for years while it sent me out into the field doing grunt work I didn’t enjoy and later sat me down at a desk and isolated me at a client’s office to perform grinding tasks which left my unique skills entirely idle. All of this left me with one of the most difficult decisions of my life.
Only by leaving behind my old job of being a computer mapper, did I ever have the time to finish Book One. I didn’t give up and eventually things evened out so that I could one day happily sit at my desk to answer these wonderful questions today. I’m in writing for the long haul this time, and for the truth of what I deserve as an author. There may be times in the future where I don’t like the truth of how my books are received. However it’ll be the truth, and as long as I can keep doing this that truth I believe, will keep calling my name back to it.
Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
Readers interested in myself and my work have several avenues open to themselves now and a few more coming on the horizon.
My twitter handle is @baellison4
B.A. Bombhead on YouTube (Coming soon!)
The Dynasty of the Phoneix has a listing on NetGalley until the end of January, open to all members interested in reading one of the next fantasy series to dominate the current reading landscape and genre as a whole. https://www.netgalley.com/publisher/title/170137
What other authors influenced your writing style the most?
The single biggest spark for me to start writing A Tale of Shadow and Shroud was reading Poe’s The Raven in my senior year English Lit class in High School. His poetry and prose seems to have imprinted on my own style just a bit, at the time when my writing abilities were just beginning to develop. Beyond him, I read from many different authors who wrote fantasy like Rowling, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Paolini which have in their own small ways have influenced A Tale of Shadow and Shroud in retrospect.
Who is the author you admire most in your genre?
I really admire Brandon Sanderson. I haven’t read nearly enough of his work as I should have by now, but his longevity in the genre and the depth of his craft rival any and all over big names past and present. From my understanding, he did a fantastic job when he stepped up to the plate to finish The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan passed away. I look forward to reading more of Mistborn and his additions to the WoT series, when I can eventually dig myself out of the other books on my list of books to read.
What is your go to cigar and whiskey?
Your questions are really taking me back, and I may have to make a trip to the store for this today, just because you’ve asked. At any point of the year, I really enjoy a Perdomo Reserve 10th Anniversary Champange with an accompanying pour of B&B (Dom Benedictine) in a low-ball glass. I’ve always been told Cognac’s are best enjoyed at room temperature, but sometimes I’ll drop in a cube or two or use a couple of cold stones, which I keep frozen.
What cigar and whiskey would you pair with your book?
There’s no wrong answer here, but I recommend a lengthy, full-bodied Camacho, and a pour of Woodford Reserve. After all, The Dynasty of the Phoenix is a cautionary one, and not always for the faint of heart.