Interview with Jeff Wheeler – Author of The Kingfountain series

Interview with Jeff Wheeler
Author of The Kingfountain series

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Michelle:

Hello Jeff,

I appreciate you being willing to do this interview with me.

I found The Queen’s Poisoner to read on my kindle, and was delighted with Owen. I can just imagine him setting up his tiles to fill his wells of power. I have continued with reading the entire series and look forward to every additional scrap you write about the Kingfountain world. I’m happy to add you to my list of favorite authors that I recommend to colleagues, friends and strangers.

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When did you decide your calling was to write books rather than work at Intel?

Jeff:

It actually started before Intel. I got the writing bug in high school and had always dreamed of making it a day job. There were a lot of people in my life who didn’t think it was very practical, so I kept working on other careers. When I made the decision to leave Intel to write full-time, friends there thought I was crazy. But I haven’t regretted the decision once and love doing what I’d always dreamed of doing.

Michelle:

I think of the three key ingredients in a great fantasy novel to be world building, plot and characters. What are your key ingredients when you write?

Jeff:

For me, it’s the characters, plot, and tension. The world building, in my view, helps establish the first two and is the glue that holds things together. But I seriously like to torture my characters because it’s tension that keeps readers flipping the pages and staying up way too late at night. And for there to be tension, the characters have to go through difficult times. That’s how Queen’s Poisoner started, right? A young boy being sent as a hostage to a ruthless king. It’s ripe for tension.

Michelle:

You’re right! I stayed up way too late reading! I was instantly vested in Owen’s well being when he was unjustly sent to the ruthless king.

I love how you use tension as one of your keys, and you’re correct because without the tension why would we keep reading?

Owen was one of my favorite characters because he is so serious, but remains charming. Owen, as well as the other characters, in the  Kingfountain series are multi-dimentional. King Severn is savage, and yet I felt some empathy for him. How do you craft such realistic characters at so many different ages?

Jeff:

Writers are notoriously people watchers. As I mentioned in my author’s notes, Owen was based in part on my little boy. When you live with someone day in and out, you get to know them and see their mannerisms and traits. Severn will be a favorite of mine because I spent a lot of time in college studying Richard III. There are still controversies about him as a king. The more you get to know the details and not a condensed paragraph, the more you see that people are complex and driven by circumstances and motives. It’s the same for my characters. When I introduce someone in a scene, even if it’s just a throwaway character, I try to base them on someone specific to help make it feel more real. If a reader buys into that reality, I’ve done my job.

Michelle:

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(The Thief’s Daughter continues to develop great characters like Owen and King Severn. If you don’t cry you are too hard hearted!)

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(In The King’s Traitor may think you know what is coming, but I promise you will be surprised!)

How often do your characters reflect characteristics of people you know, such as your admiration for the young woman you associated with who had bells palsy?

She is now immortalized in The Hollow Crown! What a cool gift from a friend.

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Jeff:

As of now, she doesn’t even know she’s in my books. The young woman is currently serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (and speaking Spanish, too!) in the Washington DC area and I didn’t want to distract her from her duties. I gave a signed copy to her parents and asked that they hold it for her until she returns in a few more months. Can’t wait to hear about her reaction though. But back to your question. Yes, all authors base elements of their characters on people we know or conjure hybrids to protect the innocent/guilty. Some people I know have cameo’s in my books (like Kevan Amrein, for example) and they know about it and are honored to be featured. Others have no idea that they exist in my fiction. I try not to be malicious about it, but it goes back to the people-watching comment from your last question. Sometimes you just meet someone and think their larger than life personality would make for a great character in a book. It’s the small characteristics that make people unique and memorable. In my next book coming out, THE SILENT SHIELD, one of my previous Intel bosses gets to be featured. He’s a great friend and leader. I wanted to immortalize him too.

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(The Silent Shield will be released Aug 22, 2017!)

Michelle:

To continue talking about characters, I also love Trynne, Owen’s oldest child. I appreciate how she is a strong female protagonist, but she isn’t an expert in every form of combat and is often filled with self doubt. Archery seems like a more natural weapon for women.

As you just mentioned Richard III was a model for King Severn, and you have used the War of the Roses as inspiration.  At what point do you know you need to depart from an historical event to delve into a new arc in your narrative?

Jeff:

The answer is the main reason I write fantasy and not historical fiction. I don’t like being constrained by what actually happened. It’s the “what if” that intrigues me. The Kingfountain series began with the thought of: “What if Richard III won the battle of Bosworth Field?” I’ve studied the War of the Roses for a long time and while the battle began the Tudor dynasty and all of its interesting flairs, what would have happened if the Plantagenets went on? First of all, I had to resurrect Stiev Horwath’s character, because his counterpart in the real world died at the battle. He’s actually one of my ancestors, but that’s a different story. So I did change events to suit my needs. As I researched early Tudor history while writing Thief’s Daughter, for example, I had to come up with an explanation for the Perkins Warbeck situation. This was where one of the supposed murdered princes shows up and leads a revolt against the Tudors. That made for some great emotional fodder for Thief’s Daughter. It also helped bring more Arthurian myths to the front. Henry Tudor named his firstborn Arthur because of the Dreadful Deadman prophecy. I didn’t even make that up. Back in the eary 1500s, people still believed that Arthur would return. As I read several histories of the time period, it provided so many rich details that I wove into the Kingfountain world. I’m glad it’s really resonated with people.

Michelle:

I love both history and Arthurian legends! I’m so glad you have found the right mix in combining the two.

I cannot even express how happy I am that THE SILENT SHIELD is coming out and the final installment, THE FORSAKEN THRONE, just a few months later! I know there will be lots of tension and I’m grateful I won’t have to wait for the final book for an entire year. How have you managed to get the final two books out so quickly?

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(The Forsaken Throne will be released, as the conclusion of The Kingfountain series, Nov. 14 2017)

Jeff:

I write at a very consistent pace. I’d learned years ago from an account of a car accident that Stephen King was in that he stopped writing for six months while he healed. When he started writing again, it took a long time and he realized that his creative “muscle” had atrophied because of the convalescence. I’ve experienced the same thing myself that when I stop writing, it takes time to get going again. To solve this problem, I take very short breaks in between writing books. That puts a burden on me when I’m editing the last book while writing the next, but I’ve made it work. The benefit is that I write 3-4 books a year and my readers don’t have to wait a long time in between them coming out. The publishing cadence is set by my publisher to maximize sales.

Michelle:

I think the publishers made a wise choice. Not only do I want to read the next two as soon as they are released, but I also want more!

I thought it was terrific to jump to the most politically charged events in the first four novels. Why did you determine that you would advance the Kingfountain series by skipping large blocks of time? And, as a follow up, it appears that the next two are more sequential in the life of Trynne – so, how did you choose to make that shift?

Jeff:

It was part of the pitch and proposal to have the large time gaps in the first three books. Let’s just say that this was a risky venture from the start. My publisher wasn’t too keen on a novel featuring such a young protagonist. Jumping many years between novels was another huge risk. I’m so grateful to have a publisher (47North) that was willing to take such risks with me. We talked about it and even brought my dev editor (the amazing Angela Polidoro) in early to get her reaction on the plot and characters and make sure the book would be satisfying to readers. Needless to say, the feedback from team and my early readers was incredibly positive. When my editor read the first draft of Queen’s Poisoner, he was so delighted that he nominated the book to be part of the Kindle First program, which contributed enormously to its success. I chose the time jumps in the first books to focus on the episodes of greatest tension. That was the primary driver behind the decision. In the second batch of Kingfountain books, there aren’t as many time jumps or as big. That’s because of the nature of the story and again, it’s to keep the tension high. This story is also based on an Arthurian legend with a smidge of revisionist history. It was a risk for my publisher to keep the series going because sales tend to drop after the third book of a trilogy. But I’m convinced that the fans of Kingfountain will keep coming back for more.
Michelle:

I’m convinced your fans will keep coming back for more too! I have really enjoyed the additional Aurthurian twist and Joan of Arc inspired character, Genette, the Maid of Donremy found in the prequel THE MAID’S WAR. I also enjoyed learning more of the background of Ankarette, since she is a lynch pin character in the series. Were you surprised at how she would be a link in the series, or was her character a plan from the beginning?  Was your plotting for the series a loose outline with room for surprises?

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(You won’t want to miss the prequel, The Maid’s War! I read it as a bridge between the first three books in the series and the final three.)

Jeff:

Ankarette has been part of the story since day one and she is sort of the welding link between things. Which is why I’ve written another stand-alone Kingfountain story which will tell her origin story. Those who know the details of the War of the Roses will especially love it, but it will also bring back many characters that are known and/or feared from the first series. It’s called THE POISONER’S ENEMY and will be launched in January. It basically shows how Ankarette started out and how she ended up working to protect the family.

Michelle:

I’ve enjoyed Ankarette as a character because she is sensitive which contrasts sharply with her profession as an assassin for her queen. I will be first in line to read THE POISONER’S ENEMY.

As a rule I don’t cry over fictional characters, though there are some notable exceptions. I always cry over Jean Valjean in Hugo’s Les Miserables. I have also cried over both Owen being thwarted over his love interest with the precocious Evie and the self-sacrificing Genette. As an author I hope you feel like you have scored a point if readers are that vested in the people you have created that they end up in tears.

Jeff:

Yes, I love to hear that my books have impacted people emotionally. I felt like crying when I first read ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA by Terry Brooks as a teenager. I wanted to write books that made people feel. When I succeed, that’s a good thing.

Michelle:

As a teen I read the Shannara books too! It was one of the key series that got me hooked on fantasy, along with The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkein and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Are there any hints you can share from the upcoming books, THE SILENT SHIELD or THE FORSAKEN THRONE, that won’t be a big spoiler?  I already know you like to torture the characters so I’m not expecting a romance for Trynne to go as she hopes.

Jeff:

I do not do spoilers, so don’t worry I won’t. Again, I’ve based this series on another obscure Arthurian legend. It’s a twist on it, so if people tried to find it, they wouldn’t be spoiled either. One of the things I really try to do as an author is to be unpredictable. I love it when I read books and can figure some things out, but not all. And I love being surprised. Believe me, I have some twists and turns coming up by the end of the series that no one will guess. If you think you know where I’m going with this story, hold on. Don’t jump to conclusions. The roller coaster isn’t over.

Michelle:

I can hardly wait to see what this obscure Arthurian legend will hold! I know your books well enough to know I will be surprised.

I really appreciate that in addition to your own writing you have been instrumental in DEEP MAGIC, The E-zine of Clean Fantasy and Science Fiction. What is your vision for DEEP MAGIC and how have you been able to collect such great talent in this undertaking?

Jeff:

I’m really turned off when I read fiction that is full of F-bombs, carnage, and gratuitous sex. As I’ve read the book reviews that readers leave, I’ve been struck over and over how many comment on the fact that my books don’t have these elements. So I realize that I’m not the only person who wants to enjoy a “clean read”. So I decided to resurrect my old e-zine Deep Magic and have managed to attract other authors who share similar standards. And by doing so, I’m promoting new authors who are selling their first stories into the market and encouraging others to do the same.

Michelle:

All the fans of the Kingfountain series will be anxious to know about your next project. Do you have it underway so we won’t be kept waiting?

Jeff:

Oh yes, I’m almost finished writing book 1 of a new 5-book series. This will be published after the Ankarette story in mid-2018. As to details, let’s just say that I’m breaking new ground again. I’ve never carried a plot thread this far before. There will be some elements of the magic that will seem familiar. Other elements will be new. But the setting is very new. There are flying cities in it. There are two protagonists who tell the story. I woke up this morning at 4:30AM because I couldn’t wait to start writing today. I’m nearly done with the first book, which does have a title, but I’m not cleared to announce it yet. Stay tuned at my blog for more announcements coming up! www.jeff-wheeler.com

Michelle:

Oooh, a flying city! That is an intriguing tid-bit, and a little cruel since now we have to wait for a new year. I can hardly wait!

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. It’s been fantastic to get to know you better.

-Michelle

Jeff:

Thanks Michelle – glad the timing finally worked out. Pays to be persistent.
Jeff

 

Readers, the Kingfountain series is ALL on sale until the end of August 2017 in the US Kindle store!  Only $2 a piece (except the unreleased books).

If you haven’t yet discover this series it is one of my all time favorites and I highly recommend it for all readers. It is a clean fantasy, complex and exciting. Give it a try today, maybe you’ll find you are among the Fountain Blessed! – Michelle

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About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow cooked in a tagine. Weekly I get together with friends and go to yoga for a bit of mommy time. Some may find me quirky, I prefer to think I am one of a kind.
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