Welcome back to CR! It’s been quite some time since we last interviewed you (2011!), so let’s start with an introduction for new readers: Who is Howard Andrew Jones?
When I’m not writing, I’m editing, and if I’m not editing I might be feeding our horses or repairing the horse fence, or reading, or playing solitaire tactical board games, or running a tabletop role-playing game, or cleaning the house, which unfortunately seems to be the spare time activity that gets the most spare time! I’ve been happily married to the same wonderful lady since 1991, and we have two kids in college, one about ready to graduate. I’ve been a TV cameraman and a recycling consultant and a technical book editor and a magazine editor and an adjunct professor of English. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed teaching, and if I hadn’t gotten that first publishing contract I might have gone back to school for my Ph.D.
I’m a fairly competent piano player, but don’t get much time to play anymore. I used to gig around in rock bands in high school and college, and picked up a little guitar skill as well, although I’m only good enough to strum accompaniment for singalongs. I hold a second degree black belt in Shotokan karate and am studying for my third. I have a deep love of ancient history and have long been fascinated with the Abbasid Caliphate and Hannibal of Carthage.
Your new novel, For the Killing of Kings, was recently published by St. Martin’s Press. It looks rather fun: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
If they’re a long-time fantasy reader, I’d tell them it’s a little like a cross between The Chronicles of Amber and The Three Musketeers. Hopefully even if they weren’t familiar with Amber they’d know about all the swashbuckling from the musketeers, so I’d then say that there’s a dedicated corps of warriors with a code of honor, and they’re pretty superhumanly competent. Two of them are framed for a murder they didn’t commit and have to flee for their lives, pursued by their friends, the greatest heroes of the realm. They’re not only out to clear their names, but to learn why the great sword Irion – foretold to slay the king of the enemy Naor people – has been replaced with a forgery, and to recover the real weapon. They stumble into an invasion, some ugly truths, and a conspiracy that may stretch all the way to the throne. There’s also some pretty wild world building, strange magic, and colorful beasties.
It’s the first book in a new trilogy, the second book of which is being released this November. No long waits for books from me!
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
You’re probably already guessing two of the biggest inspirations from my answer to the last question; I imprinted pretty early on The Four Musketeers owing to the 1970s movie of the back half of the novel, The Three Musketeers. I saw it when I was 4 or 5 in the theatre, and I loved it. And The Chronicles of Amber was one of the first true series of fantasy novels I ever read, in junior high school, and it just about blew my mind. It sent me in search of more great adventure fantasy.
But as for how that turned into a story so many decades later, I couldn’t tell you. I could relay that some of my main characters have been wandering around in my head for about twenty-five years, demanding I write a story about them, and that I’ve tried to tell that story with various unpublished novels over the last twenty years but it never worked out right, until now.
And as for my inspiration in general, I read a lot of history, and I read outside the genre, and I get ideas and characters and wonder what would happen if a history event had gone differently, or if those kinds of characters were in that setting, and then I go play with it a bit.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
It feels like it was always with me, but I guess there are several possible answers. I was born in 1968, and I had two older sisters, one of whom had all the cool comics and liked Leigh Brackett’s Skaith series, and other neat genre books. Before even that, when I was four or so, my mom was taking a course for her master’s degree that involved reading The Hobbit, and she read it aloud to me as she went.
The original Star Trek was on endless re-run all through the ‘70s, and I watched it avidly. I found it when I was five, when my kindergarten pal Mike Boone rang me up – which surprised me, because that was the first phone call I ever received. Anyway, he told me that the cool show he’d mentioned on the playground was starting right now. I thanked him, asked my father if I could turn the channel on our old black-and-white TV, and when he said yes, lo, there were Kirk and Spock beaming down into adventure. I was immediately enthralled. The original Trek had such a huge impact upon me I’m sure it influences nearly every story I tell in some way, even if I’m almost never writing science fiction.
Lastly, Dungeons & Dragons introduced me to fantasy adventure at the right age, and courtesy of that famed Appendix N of recommended reading at the back of the DM’s Guide, I discovered all kinds of great stuff, including Amber.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I’ve wanted to be a storyteller since I was a little kid, and worked for years and years to break into the industry, so it’s pretty exciting to be here. Sometimes I have to remember to stop and be grateful, because it can also be a little stressful. But it’s also immensely gratifying knowing that I’m making up stories that are inspiring some readers out there, hopefully in the same way that my favorite books once inspired me.
I love going to conventions and meeting readers and fellow writers and talking books and craft – that’s a real pleasure that I wasn’t aware of when I was younger. I wish I could get out to more of them. I’m in a part of the country where almost all of the conventions are a bit of a haul, so I usually only get out once or twice a year.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about the way I write. I use a laptop a lot of the time, but I always carry a pocket notebook and pen with me when I’m out and about in case I get an idea when I’m unexpectedly delayed. When I research I tend to be pretty thorough and do a lot of reading both into primary and secondary sources.
I do spend a lot of time thinking about the writing craft and trying to improve how I do it, and if you’re a writer and want a glimpse at my process, you can drop by and see if any of my observations are useful. I’m pretty honest about my struggles in the hope it will be helpful.
The Desert of Souls — book one in Howard’s previous fantasy series
(Published by St. Martin’s Griffin and Head of Zeus)
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?
Before I knew how to write, when I was a very small boy, I used to draw pictures and arrange them in order, and then ask my mom to write what was going on in each picture. Then I’d staple them together and I’d have a book. She said because of that she knew early on that I’d be a writer. Probably she didn’t expect me to be an artist, because I was terrible. My son happens to be an exceptional artist, and thanks to him I’ve seen what a talented little kid’s work looks like – and it didn’t resemble what I was doing.
I look back fondly upon my mom’s help and encouragement, but not my work. I was simply learning how to do it. Since I started earlier, you’d think maybe I would have gotten that book deal before I was in my 40s… I guess I’m a slow learner!
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
That’s a loaded question! I feel a little divorced from modern fantasy fiction. I haven’t been doing that great a job keeping up with it for the last four or five years, apart from a few authors. I’ve discovered the joy of hardboiled detective and western novels and have been exploring a lot of older books in those categories rather than keeping up with the newest stuff.
I like shorter books, of 60 to 90 thousand words, so I had to teach myself to write longer novels, which seem to be the preference of modern readers. I really enjoy novels with a cracking fast pace, too, and when I try some of the modern stuff I get frustrated by long digressions and scenes that feel like padding. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also read some wonderful long modern novels. I’m not down on the whole idea. I just wish huge wasn’t the expected norm. I hope readers who seem to enjoy the ones I feel are padded appreciate the fast pace of my own books.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I have a little too much going on right now, honestly. I’m revising the second book in this series for its release in November, and that’s definitely on the front burner. I edit the sword-and-sorcery magazine Tales From the Magician’s Skull, and the kickstarter for its next two issues will be starting soon.
I’m also the Executive Editor for Perilous Worlds, and one of my main duties for them is to edit all the new Conan pastiche.
At the end of last year I was disappointed to see how little short fiction I’d written, so I had resolved to write a short story every other month. And now, busy as I am, I see why that didn’t happen last year. I am getting some good outlines together, though. Hopefully when the schedule clears I can sit down with a stack of outlines and draft a bunch in a row.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’ve been on a real detective and western kick, but I felt in the mood for some good old fashioned planetary adventure crammed full of sense of wonder. I went to my bookshelves and saw mostly modern Grimdark fantasy, and that didn’t feel at all like the flavor I was after, so I pulled out a hardback collection of Leigh Brackett’s Skaith books and just finished re-reading that.
I read a bunch of Lin Carter when I was younger and while I don’t think I’d enjoy most of it nearly as much now, I was talking with some other fantasy fans recently and we all agreed that his novel Lost World of Time was probably his best. It’s very short, and I might re-read that before I switch over to some new fiction written by some writer friends. Maybe I’m craving something wild and colorful because of all those dark mean streets and desert westerns I’ve been reading!
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Only one? Good grief. I guess it would depend upon the person and their interests. If they were someone I thought would like sword-and-sorcery and heroic adventure and they were fairly unfamiliar with it, I’d give them the only Conan novel by Robert E. Howard, The Hour of the Dragon.
If they loved historical adventure, I’d recommend a Harold Lamb collection, probably the first of four volumes starring his Cossack heroes, Wolf of the Steppes.
If they already knew and loved those things but were curious about westerns, I’d point them towards the collection Trouble Rides Tall by Harry Whittington, published in 2016 by Stark House, because all three short novels in the book are good, and the first and third are excellent, and prove even to the skeptical just how good a western can be. And if they want to see just how fine a hardboiled detective novel can be, then I’d aim them towards the second Phillip Marlowe novel by Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely.
If they wanted some space opera/planetary adventure, I’d say go find some Leigh Brackett, starting with The Sword of Rhiannon.
If they loved history, then I’d say Harold Lamb’s March of the Barbarians is one of the finest books I’ve ever read, and chronicles the history of the Mongolian empire.
I could go on, but I’ll stop now, because I’ve probably already cheated.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Given that I’m an intellectual and was never that good at athletics when younger, it still surprises me that I’ve been involved in karate since my thirties and how much of an important part of life it’s become. But I’m not sure how surprising that is for other people.
Maybe they’d be surprised by my deep love of the original Star Trek, which allows me to identify a lot of episodes by just seeing a few seconds, or… here, here’s something non genre related – I’m a huge fan of Badfinger and went to great lengths to find their music before it was more readily available. I’m also a big fan of The Beatles, but given that they were incredibly gifted and that there are probably billions of people who love them, that’s probably not so surprising. I can do a pretty fair Liverpool accent, though, for no good reason.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
My son’s graduating college and I look forward to seeing him launch successfully into an artistic career. Fingers are crossed, because I know it can be challenging. There are a few movies I’m looking forward to seeing, but nothing I’m jumping up and down about. I suppose the thing I’m most excited for is a short family vacation that’s coming up soon. It may be the last time all four of us are free at the same time for many years, so it will be a little bittersweet.
Howard Andrew Jones’s For the Killing of Kings is out now, published by St. Martin’s Press in North America and in the UK.
Also on CR: Interview with Howard Andrew Jones (2011); Guest Post on “Influences & Inspirations”