Friday, December 6, 2013

Author Interview with Jonathan L. Howard - Katya's War (The Russalka Chronicles #2)

Today, we have the pleasure of hosting Jonathan L. Howard, author of the Russalka Chronicles, for Katya's War! This is  the second installment in the trilogy and was released on November 5, 2013. For more information on the book, Jonathan, and to read an interview with him concerning the book, his writing habits, etc., keep scrolling!

About the book! 

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Ashley's Katya's World Review
Ashley's Katya's War Review
Paul's Katya's World Review
Paul's Katya's War Review

Title: Katya's War
Author: Jonathan L. Howard
Publication Date: November 5, 2013

Synopsis: The battle lines have been drawn. The people of Russalka turn upon one another in a ruthless and unwavering civil war even while their world sickens and the deep black ocean is stained red with their blood. As the young civilization weakens, its vitality fueling the opposing militaries at the cost of all else, the war drums beat louder and louder.

Katya Kuriakova knows it cannot last. Both sides are exhausted – it can only be a matter of days or weeks before they finally call a truce and negotiate. But the days and weeks pass, the death toll mounts, and still the enemy will not talk.

Then a figure from the tainted past returns to make her an offer she cannot lightly refuse – a plan to stop the war. But to do it she will have to turn her back on everything she has believed in, everything she has ever fought for, to make sacrifices greater even than laying down her own life. To save Russalka, she must become its greatest enemy.

About the author!

Jonathan L Howard is a game designer, scriptwriter, and a veteran of the computer games industry since the early 1990s, with titles such as the ‘Broken Sword’ series to his credit.

After publishing two short stories featuring Johannes Cabal (Johannes Cabal and the Blustery Day and Exeunt Demon King) in H. P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer was published in 2009 as his first novel.

This was followed by Johannes Cabal the Detective in 2010 and Johannes Cabal the Fear Institute in 2011.

2012 saw Strange Chemistry publish Katya's World, the first novel of the Russalka Chronicles. The second novel, Katya's War, will be published in November 2013.

He lives with his wife and daughter near Bristol.

Strange Chemistry | Website | Twitter

The interview!

1. Russalka is pretty much a world of water. What made you want to create such an interesting world? Do you have a connection to the ocean yourself?
I don’t have a connection with the ocean myself, apart from an abiding fascination with it from an early age. I used to love “Stingray” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” when I was a kid, and I watched every Jacques Cousteau documentary I could. I would very much like to live by the sea, it’s true. I even seriously considered applying to join the Royal Navy submariners directly from school.

That interest with the sea, specifically what lies beneath the surface, has therefore always been with me. When the chain of ideas that would become Russalka started to come together, the very first one was, what must it be like to live on a world that has no solid land at all? Ice caps, yes, but the whole reason for colonising the world in the first place is the mineral wealth that lies deep, so it makes more sense to build sunken settlements mined out of the submarine mountains.

One of the things that makes humans interesting is because we can live pretty much anywhere, at least potentially, and we do it by either altering the environment to suit us or, failing that, by taking our environment with us. Russalka is interesting because it has a breathable atmosphere and the temperature is not unbearable, but despite all this, it’s still as dangerous as the vacuum of space, so many of the technologies used to survive it are similar.

2. What was the most challenging part of writing Katya's War?
Staying true to Katya, I think. She’s an evolving character, but she’s still the same personality underpinning changes wrought by her experiences. She’s more cynical than she was in Katya’s World, but not enormously. She certainly isn’t defined by cynicism.

It’s also tempting to make your protagonist nearly flawless, but that just makes them rather boring. I wouldn’t want to betray her by making her blandly superb. Katya makes mistakes, she messes up, but at least she messes up while trying to do the right thing.

She doesn’t have any super powers, but she does have two character attributes that make her a hero. Firstly, she has a moral centre, and it directs her. Secondly, she doesn’t freeze under pressure. If she can be described as having anything approaching a super power, that’s it. Most people stand like a deer in headlights when serious trouble suddenly presents itself. In her case, she thinks clearly and can act upon it, often knowing that she has a small window before she does freeze up, so she’s staying ahead of shock.

3. What is your favourite movie that takes place on a boat or has something to do with the ocean?
There’s a wonderful 1943 film, “We Dive at Dawn.” Terrific cast, including Eric Portman and Niall MacGinnis, and John Mills in an unusually unsympathetic performance as the captain of the Royal Navy submarine “Sea Tiger,” on a mission to sink a battleship. Mills is brilliant, fiercely driven and brutally pragmatic, just as much of a sea tiger as his boat.

I’m very fond of British WWII films; they don’t sugercoat war like Hollywood did. It’s hard to tell your audience that war’s all firm-chinned heroics when they’ve had their cities bombed and know the truth of it.

4. If you could only use three words to describe Katya's War, what would they be?
Intense. Horrifying. Exciting.

5. Which character in the series so far has been your favourite to write?
Gosh, that’s a difficult question. I enjoy writing all of them. I suppose I do get an extra smile from Tasya Morevna, because she’s outrageous. From some of the feedback I’ve had from the first book, I get the impression she has a bit of a following.

6. How much additional research did you have to do between Katya's World and Katya's War?
Very little actual research. Some fact checking, but most of it was already in my head from previous reading. Also I did do some design work so I had an understanding of scale in some situations.

7. How does a typical writing day go for you?
Pretty similar to most writers, I think. Get up, shower, shave (optional), breakfast, power up the laptop, clear pressing correspondence, start writing. Some days go well, others less so. If a day’s turning into a disaster writing-wise, I still try to get at least a few hundred words out of it so that things are moving forward, then do more administrative stuff to clear time on subsequent days.

8. What book are you currently reading or have you recently enjoyed?
Over the last year or two, I’ve developed a strong fascination with WWII covert operations. I’ve been reading about Bletchley Park and Enigma, assorted agents like Zigzag and Garbo, I finished one about Operation Mincemeat, i.e. “The Man Who Never Was” deception just recently, and I’m currently reading Hidden Weapons: Allied Secret and Undercover Services in World War II by Basil Collier. It’s a quite drily written book, but chock full of the most astonishing stuff. I think I might like to write a novel set in World War II at some point, although the vast amount of research it would require just to get the details of everyday living right is rather daunting.

9. I've heard you are quite the gamer. What are some tabletop games you've been playing recently?
Unhappily, I’ve been too busy this year to get into any games at all. I watch “Tabletop” on the Geek & Sundry Youtube channel with utter envy. I’ve been assuaging my gaming addiction by reading RPG rule sets for pleasure and in the faint hope I might get a game together at some point. My abiding favourite is Pathfinder, but 13th Age, Numenera, and FATE have all been tickling my fancy since they came out

10. How much did your background in game writing/computer games influence the Russalka Chronicles?
To be honest, not at all. Not an iota. I got into games because I like games and I like coming up with stories, characters, and dialogue. My specialisation has always been as what is now called a “content designer” as opposed to somebody who designs systems. I’m quite capable of doing that too, and have done on several projects, but it’s not what really engages me. For me, it’s always been about the story, the world, and the people in it.

11. Although Katya has several complicated relationships, none of them are romantic. What made you decide to leave the romance out, especially when the YA genre seems to be flooded with it?
This is perhaps going to sound rather disingenuous, but it wasn’t a conscious decision at all. To my mind, I was writing a reasonably “hard” SF adventure, so the conscious decision would have been to include romance, not leave it out. My impetus to write Katya’s World was a visit to a bookshop when I happened to notice that the chidren’s/YA section had pretty much nothing in the way of the sort of SF I used to read when I was discovering the genre. That saddened me, and angered me a little, so off I went and wrote one. Wilful, aren’t I?

That’s not to say that romance won’t feature in any YA I write, but it will have to occur organically as the story develops, not because it’s expected. Heavens forbid.

Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and answer our questions! :)

--Ashley & Paul

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