Let’s start with an introduction: Who is E.C. Ambrose?
E.C. Ambrose writes The Dark Apostle series of adventure-based historical fantasy novels, beginning with Elisha Barber from DAW Books. An art school drop-out, the author is both a graduate of and an instructor for the Odyssey Writing workshop, and a participant in the Codex on-line neo-pro writers’ workshop. In addition to writing, E. C. works as an adventure guide, teaching rock climbing and leading hiking, kayaking, climbing and mountain biking camps. Past occupations include founding a wholesale business, selecting stamps for a philatelic company, selling equestrian equipment, and portraying the Easter Bunny on weekends.
Your latest novel, Elisha Daemon, will be published by DAW in February 2018. It’s the fifth novel in your Dark Apostle series. How would you introduce the series to a potential reader? And what can fans of the previous novels expect from the newest instalment?
The Dark Apostle is an adventure-based historical fantasy series about medieval surgery. These books enter some grim territory, being true to the reality of 14th century life and medicine — the research was half the fun! Writing Elisha Daemon was a special challenge because it had to hit bigger and harder than the previous volumes and reveal the perfect climax for all of Elisha’s struggles. The perfect ending is both surprising (“Wow, I didn’t see that coming!’) and inevitable (“Of course that’s what had to happen!”). I’m hoping I nailed it. It brings together old and new characters with the culmination of some of the ideas I’ve been playing with throughout the books.
What inspired you to write the series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
This series came from two places. First of all, I was researching medieval medicine to add a touch more realism to a secondary world fantasy novel, and getting increasingly invested in my reading — until I realized I’d come up with an idea for a completely different book. Second, as I started to delve more into the time period, I kept encountering layers of prejudice, so I wanted to examine those attitudes. Most of my work is inspired by non-fiction reading and research. I’ll get excited about some fascinating invention or location I hadn’t heard about, and I use fantasy to explore what I’ve learned.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
When I was a child, my family had the tradition of reading aloud around the dinner table on Sundays. Since my dad was a Lord of the Rings fan, much of what we read was fantasy (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Phantom Tollbooth). He also introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons and the rest, as they say, is history.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Hmm. Two different questions. I love writing. I enjoy coming up with ideas, developing characters, and diving into the fictional realm of a new novel. As for the publishing industry, it’s a little more complicated. The industry has been changing so much in the last few years that it’s hard not to feel that I’m constantly falling behind or that I should be doing something more/better/different to keep abreast of the market. But my agent and editor have been fantastic.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Since most of my projects begin with historical or factual details, I read a fair amount of non-fiction. I’ll start with general sources, then check the bibliography for primary sources and more specific references to zero in on the exact stuff I need. I read until I have an impression of a character and what conflicts they face, I start brainstorming the plot. I develop an outline on old business cards, which I transfer into Scrivener to write the actual draft.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I started writing stories in the first grade, and knew early on that I wanted to write for publication — though I assumed I’d have to get a day job first in order to make that happen. I actually still have some of those stories.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
It’s exciting to see the genre opening up to fresh voices and a broader vision of fantasy realms outside of medieval Europe, though sometimes it’s disconcerting to enter into a voice or perspective quite different from what’s familiar, but that’s the power of literature: to allow you to experience other lives.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Always! The work I currently have under submission is an epic historical fantasy novel set during the Mongol invasion of China, and featuring a clockwork doomsday device based on an 11th century astronomical clock. I have a secondary world novel coming back from my beta readers, and in the meantime, I’m drafting a second thriller.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Thriller research has brought me to The Lampshade by Mark Jacobsen and Hitler’s Furies, by Wendy Lower, though I recently finished The Science of Game of Thrones. For fiction, some short work by Kenneth Schneyer.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
Doc, by Mary Doria Russell. I am a huge fan of her best-known work, The Sparrow, but it’s also a very tough book emotionally — so if I want the person to have a great first experience with Russell, I send them to read Doc.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Among my other interests, I play taiko: a communal form of Japanese drumming.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Attending the Arisia convention, then Boskone. Not only do I get to meet with long-time fans, I can spend long hours chatting with other writers, take in the art shows, and get a re-charge of my creative energy. Also, in April, I’ll be going to Wales for the first time since I was a child — staying in some 13th and 14th century dwellings, and overdosing on castles!