Howard A. Jones Interview
Posted: Mar-10-2015 at 7:19am
An Interview with Howard A. Jones
by Daniel E. Blackston
Howard Andrew Jones is one of the most promising "undiscovered" writers working today in the genre of traditional heroic fantasy. His richly plotted, confidently written adventure tales range from mysteries in ancient Arabia to sword-clashing duels under the Minoan sun. Widely acclaimed for his Elise series of heroic fantasy stories, Jones is also a spirited student of pulp-era fiction, with a special interest in and knowledge of the work of Harold Lamb. Recently, Jones' story, "Homecoming", won 2nd place in SFReader's debut Fiction Contest.
Considering the fact that Jones has already claimed an enthusiastic audience with his appearances in the small press, it's only a matter of time before his work begins to flesh out some of the larger circulating pubs. With the strong demand among readers for traditional fantasy tales and Jones' vibrant vision and talent it seems inevitable that his fiction will soon reach an ever widening and appreciative audience.
Mr. Jones graciously agreed to the following interview, taking time out from his hectic schedule, to provide a fascinating and thought provoking conversation
In your opinion, what are the essential elements of good storytelling?
Call me old fashioned, but I think a story has to have a plot. Not a day in the life of a character -- which can be interesting occasionally -- but an honest to goodness plot. It begins with a hook that leads on through a series of interesting events, tension, turning points, and mystery. Memorable characters are a must. So is a compelling setting -- the setting itself should be a character. The plot should evolve from the collision of the motivations between the protagonists and antagonists. And because I'll just assume we're talking about speculative or adventure fiction, let me say further that the writing should evoke a sense of wonder. Naturally there's a lot more that could be said on this topic, but I'll stop now before I get too pedantic.
There are probably fewer serious, capable writers working in traditional fantasy at the short story level than ever before -- and yet there's every indication that interest in traditional fantasy has reached a zenith among the population at large. What do you think it is about the elements of traditional fantasy that so fascinates the general population?
It's different things for different people, but I can state generally that there's a desire to escape from our everyday lives. The media at large likes to lump it into general escapism into black-and-white worlds. Reading about larger than life heroes and heroines IS tremendously appealing. But not all fantasy worlds are black and white and simplistic, as most fantasy readers can tell you. Give me a copy of one of James Stoddard's novels over what passes for modern literature any day. His, "The High House", is richer, deeper, and far more entertaining. Traditional fantasy also gives us a sense of wonder that our modern lives lack.
Do you personally feel that speculative fiction magazines, particularly print magazines, would attract new readers by increasing the amount of traditional fantasy they publish?
Not that I'm opinionated or anything, but yes, most definitely. Until recently there were very few magazine outlets for writers who wanted to craft tales of fantastic adventure. I know that a few years ago when I briefly subscribed to a major fantasy magazine that shall remain nameless it frequently featured action covers that had nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of the magazine; someone was obviously aware that people wanted more than powerless, dull characters emoting their woes in a fantasy setting. For a long time it was as though editors were trying to make the occasional sauces and pickles of experimental fiction into main courses. It just doesn't work. Fortunately there are a number of magazines that are once again open to more traditional sword and sorcery, and I hope others will follow.
Your series adventure stories, especially the Elise stories have generated a lot of interest and enthusiasm without your having the benefit of publication in the prestige pubs. Are you surprised at the popularity of your heroine? Can you tell us a little bit of your history with Elise and the kind of challenges and benefits you've experienced by writing about such a strongly recognizable character?
Any kind of interest or success is a pleasant surprise. I write the kind of stories I like to read, and it's gratifying to see that my tastes may not be as out of step as I was starting to think. The biggest challenge has been getting Elise into print, because the magazine I created her for folded shortly after I sent off the first Elise story. Since then she's appeared in Glyph and Gauntlet: The Magazine of Heroic Fiction, but never really had a home until Frazer invited her to the Sword's Edge online magazine. As for the benefits, they're all pleasant. I'm grateful that Elise has started to find an audience. That exposure also has opened up friendships between myself and likeminded writers and editors that have enriched my life and improved my fiction.
What other series characters and settings have you created?
Keep in mind that my ideal would be to have several series characters running in different magazines. As a result, I've created a number of characters in different settings, and have a number of stories about the various characters making the rounds, partly finished, or in planning stages.
I'll just talk about the series that are, or will be, in print soon: Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine will publish one late in 2003 about Hannibal Barca's most mysterious brother-he's something like a Carthaginian secret agent with mystic powers. Gauntlet published two of my other Carthaginian stories. Right now the series I'm most excited about is set in the Abbasid Caliphate of the 9th century, and features two Arabian heroes. One of the stories appeared on Sword's Edge, two more are in magazine slush piles, and I'm working at several others. I love writing them. In flavor they're a little like the Sherlock Holmes stories as they might have been team crafted by Scheherazade and Robert E. Howard.
Recently, I read an interview in GUITAR PLAYER magazine with Carlos Santana, who said one of the most rewarding things in his life has been to know that out of 100 million guitarists in the world, he's one of twenty or thirty that people would recognize after hearing him play only for a few notes. I'd almost certainly recognize one of your stories even without your byline appearing above it. How important is it for a writer to pursue an individually recognizable voice in their writing? Are you conscious of constructing such a voice?
Now I have to ask -- what makes them recognizable to you? I think it's great to have a distinct voice, and I'm glad to hear that you think I have one, but it's not something I set out to do. My wife used to tell me I sounded too much like Roger Zelazny, and I don't think that I do anymore. Maybe I have enough influences today that they've blended into something that's not so clearly imitative. I'm constantly wishing my descriptions had more lyrical power, like Lord Dunsany, or that my action scenes were more gripping, like Robert E. Howard's, or that my settings breathed as much character as those of Leigh Brackett. I've spent a lot of time taking Harold Lamb's plots apart -- he was a master plotter. I study the writers I enjoy to figure out what makes their prose work, and strive to understand their techniques. My writing sure has improved since I started doing that. I hope it continues to do so.
O.K., let's talk novels. What Howard Andrew Jones novels are presently in the works? What can we expect to see from you at this range? Have you considered collecting the Elise stories into a single collection, as was suggested recently by Fraser Ronald?
One novel is finished and in the hands of an agent. Go ahead and keep your fingers crossed for me. Three earlier novels are finished, but they're such wrecks that only one may be worth salvaging. I have outlines and plans for a number of other fantasy adventure novels and have been writing on two of them. If someone approached me about an Elise collection I'd certainly be interested in hearing what they had to say about it. It would mean writing more Elise stories, which is fine by me -- I've got two others and a short novel outlined roughly, and plans for others.
CHRONICLE recently reported the sale of 19 year old Christopher Paolini's self-published children's fantasy to Knopf for a rumored 500k. Would you ever consider self-publishing or some form of 'alternative" publishing for your novel length works?
I think Paolini's success is a fluke and couldn't be anticipated or expected. My dream is to make a living writing adventure fiction, and to my mind the best way to do that is to try the more traditional channels first. If that doesn't work, then I'll attempt other methods. But trying other methods takes more time, and my time's limited. I barely have time to write as it is. For me the writing is the most important thing. I start to get really cranky if I'm away from it for too long.
Tell us a little bit about your work with Harold Lamb's literary archives. How did your involvement begin, where are some of your articles scheduled to appear...
Back in high school I stumbled upon a collection of short stories by Harold Lamb titled "The Curved Saber" that featured a wandering Cossack hero. The skill and swashand action, the plotting, the fabulous settings, all made a lasting impression on me and it became one of my favorite books. As years passed I learned that there were other Lamb tales of his heroic Cossack, and other adventure stories besides, that had never been reprinted from their early pulp days. In the course of tracking them down to read them I accidentally became an expert on Lamb's writing. Whenever I met likeminded fantasy readers and writers-others who enjoyed Fritz Leiber and Leigh Brackett and Roger Zelazny -- and of course Robert E. Howard -- I would mention Harold Lamb, and almost no one had ever heard of him.
I had a hard time believing that such a consistently excellent writer had been so overlooked. After I launched a web site dedicated to him and letters started coming in I realized that there were indeed many others out there who loved and remembered Lamb's works -- writers William Forstchen, Harry Turtledove, L. Sprague de Camp, James Stoddard, and S.M. Stirling have remembered him fondly, and I've scores of letters from loyal readers. Right now I've written four introductions for Wildside Press editions reprinting Lamb works. One of them, The Grand Cham, is available through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. I'm working with the copyright holder on some other Lamb related projects that might make his writing even more easily available. As for articles and information, you can naturally visit the Harold Lamb web site, or look for an article I'm writing for the new historical fiction magazine, Paradox .
Lamb gets a lot of mention in a long article on the history of sword and sorcery I wrote that's upcoming in Black Gate -- it's my contention Lamb is the unsung grandfather of the genre. Anyone who enjoys Leiber and Howard will like Lamb's adventure stuff.
How essential is it for a writer to stick to his or her guns and write their own style of fiction rather than gauge market conditions and expectations? Will individuality or modulation win out in the end?
Whether or not it will win out in the end, I can't say. If you're not writing what the muses inspire you, I don't think your writing will shine. I know mine doesn't. But it's not the same for everyone. You probably know many examples of writers who made steady or even good livings writing whatever they aimed at the market. Some may even enjoy the challenge of writing to the market. Certainly Henry Kuttner -- another neglected writer -- was a master of many different genres. I don't think it would work for me. It didn't really work for Harold Lamb -- when the adventure fiction market basically died, he wrote for other markets, but most of the time the magic was lost.
That's not to say I think a writer should sit in a cave and write only what he or she wishes, though sometimes that too can lead to great works. Emily Dickinson comes to mind. She's not exactly a great model of happiness or success, though, is she?
Like most writers, you have a wide ranging life outside of your creative work, which sometimes comes into conflict with your writing? Any tips for writers out there trying to balance their writerly and non-writerly responsibilities?
It's a constant juggle. You need those around you behind your efforts so that they can help you get that writing time in. Regular writing time is a must, and so is reading time, because you have to read other authors and reference works or you end up writing in a vacuum. I'm lucky -- my wife believes in my work. Even still, the only time I can get writing in is if I get up early in the morning, which means I've got to have a regular bed time, or it's impossible to wake. Scheduling is vital, and so too is making that time sacrosanct -- where you don't get interrupted with diaper changes and phone calls. Other writers might be able to write at night, but my mental energy is gone by then -- it may come from having two small children -- I don't know. Find what works for you, be it forty-five minutes every day or two hours every other day, and stick with it.
What's the sweetest thing about being a writer?
There's certainly little sweet about the writing process itself. I have this mad compulsion to create these stories and drag myself out of bed early every morning to make that happen even when it's much easier to hit the snooze alarm. I have this burning desire to create and to share my creations with others, and I veer wildly between dreaming of great success and fearing that I'll end up an angry bitter hermit who labored for years and never progressed. It IS nice when you finish a story, until you revisit it and see the things that still need changing. The rush of creativity is immensely satisfying, and that's probably my favorite part, though I do enjoy the contact with readers and writers. But I don't think of it as sweet. Being a writer is a crazy thing and I wouldn't wish it on someone else. I'd give it up if I didn't love it so.
copyrightt © 2003, Daniel E. Blackston
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