Book Nerd Interview
Howard’s first novel, The Desert of Souls,was one of only nine books to make the influential Kirkus New and Notable Science Fiction list for 2011, was one of a select few to appear on the 2011 Locus Recommended Reading List, and was number 4 on the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases of 2011. Additionally, The Desert of Souls was a finalist for the prestigious Compton Crook Award, and a featured selection of The Science Fiction Book Club.
The standalone sequel to The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones, will be released on December 11, 2012, in bookstores nationwide, and an e-collection of related short stories, The Waters of Eternity, is available now.
His Pathfinder novel, Plague of Shadows, appeared in March of 2011, and a sequel will be turned over to publishers by the end of 2012.
Howard was the driving force behind the rebirth of interest in Harold Lamb’s historical fiction, and assembled and edited 8 collections of Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He served as Managing Editor of Black Gate magazine from 2004 onward, and still blogs regularly at the magazine web site.
When not helping run his small family farm or spending time with his wife and children, he can be found hunched over his laptop or notebook, mumbling about flashing swords and doom-haunted towers. He’s worked variously as a TV cameraman, a book editor, a recycling consultant, and most recently, as a writing instructor at a mid-western college.
What was your first introduction to literature, the one that made you choose that genre to write?
I write in a blend of genres, so I guess it should be no surprise that I have a blend of answers.
When I was a kid it was Ray Bradbury short stories and Robert Heinlein juvenile science fiction adventure novels (Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, Red Planet, etc.) that transported me and got me writing, but those stories didn’t really affect the kind of fiction I ended up publishing. The first sword-and-sorcery book I read was Fritz Leiber’s Swords Against Death, the most consistently excellent of his short story collections of the swashbuckling, bickering rogues, Fahrd and the Gray Mouser. The first historical adventure fiction I read was Harold Lamb’s Cossack saga, which I loved just as much as the Leiber stories, and took me to obscure but real places. And, while I don’t write science fiction, I loved Leigh Bracket’s evocative settings. She could create atmosphere like nobody else. I strive to impart a sense of place the way she does in everything I write, but I feel like I always come up short in comparison.
What about mystery and suspense, you ask? Well, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, of course, along with the very different Parker novels, written by the late, great Donald Westlake under a pen name.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I don’t have anything truly startling. Unlike most men I know, I have absolutely no interest in any kind of professional sports, and never watch them, whatever the genre. I get no thrill watching other people play unless they’re my own kids.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I used to draw picture books when I was too young to actually write them, and I’d make my poor mom write the descriptions of what was happening at the bottom of the pages. The first full-length novel I finished was something about high school I wrote the summer before college started. I was very proud of it then, but I rather hope that I lost it in a basement flood. I’m a lousy, lousy artist, incidentally, which is why I switched over to drafting long hand pretty soon after I learned to write. I have always felt the compulsion to tell stories!
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
A love of history. I had two great history teachers, one in junior high (William Johnston) and one in high school (Herman Fanning). They both ignited a love of history as story. I had many other fine teachers, along with a number of mediocre ones and one or two truly bad ones, but that love of history was very important. Oh, and learning how to type was a great practical skill. When I was in high school you could take a two semester typing track, or a one semester course, so I signed on for a semester. Back in the day when home computers were still a novelty, typing wasn’t taught routinely, so I’m glad that, for once, I acted with foresight. That one semester taught me a skill I’ve used almost every day of my life ever since.
Did you learn anything from writing The Bones of the Old Ones and what was it?
I have a much better idea about how I need to outline. The Desert of Souls had a really loose outline, and the writing process was pretty straight forward. But a loose outline doesn’t work as well for a more complex book, at least for me, and I wasted a lot of time drafting and re-drafting until I finally figured it out. It’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart.
What do you feel is the most significant change since The Desert of Souls?
The first novel was the origin story – how Dabir and Asim came to be brothers in all but blood. Now that the reasons behind their complete trust in one another are established, the succeeding novels will be more complex, with larger casts of characters and slightly longer lengths – although I have no intention of turning this into a “doorstop sized book” series. Also, Asim’s view of the world and other people in it continues to evolve.
Which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book 1 and in what way have they changed?
Both Dabir and Asim have changed a lot. Dabir was used to being alone –the smartest person in the room, the lone voice of reason who was frequently ignored. It took him a long time to feel that he could thoroughly rely upon someone else. Asim has changed even more. He still bears some prejudices of his time and region, but he’s more capable now of reconsidering his preconceptions.
For those who are unfamiliar with Najya, how would you introduce her?
She’s from the 8th century Persian upper class, and while used to getting her own way she isn’t actually spoiled because she was raised by her father (a general) to be independent. The general not only taught her self defense, he showed her how to think tactically, and she is a skilled player of the chess forerunner, shatranj. She’s well educated and intelligent, and beneath the dignified façade has a rather boisterous sense of humor. And she has one or two dark secrets that come out over the course of the novel…
What part of Dabir did you enjoy writing the most?
Dabir’s harder to write than Asim because he’s so damned smart – a lot smarter than me. If I ever make him sound clever it’s because I allow myself several months to devise answers it takes him a few seconds to come up with. The best part of writing him is setting up a scene where Asim or some of the other characters don’t know what Dabir is thinking, or where his words might have a double meaning, but the readers understand what’s going on. It can be tricky, but when it works I get a strong sense of satisfaction. One of my favorite scenes in the book is one of these moments, where Dabir is talking with the Greek sorceress, Lydia, who has made some incorrect assumptions about Dabir’s motivations. I believe Dabir’s few words on the subject speak volumes to the reader because of what’s happened before, even if Lydia is too mired in herself to comprehend them.
If you could introduce Asim to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
A few years back I dreamed that Dabir and Asim were standing at the side of a modern looking swimming pool talking with James Enge’s Morlock Ambrosius (from the Tournament of Shadows series published by Pyr). James and I are friends – we know each other through our connection with Black Gate magazine, where Dabir and Asim and Morlock stories have all been published – and when I told him about the dream, he mentioned that it’s not impossible for Morlock, a wizard, to do some alternate reality hopping. So maybe we’ll try that some day. I think Dabir would hit it off pretty well with Saladin Ahmed’s Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, but Asim would probably do better with Imaro, from Charles Saunders’ Imaro sequence. He and the Nyumbani warrior have a lot in common, being powerful fighting men who hold fiercely to their word and sense of honor and duty.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I study the work of a lot of writers, including the aforementioned and several others, especially C.S. Forester (best known as the creator of Captain Horatio Hornblower), Jack Vance, Catherine Moore, western writer Ben Haas, and space opera magician Lois McMaster Bujold. The living writer who has been my mentor is my good friend E.E. Knight, who has provided all sorts of advice and feedback to me for years, including once gifting me with an expensive pen when I was feeling down over a novel rejection and telling me to use it when I got that novel contract one day. He assured me it would happen. And I used his pen when it did.
The writer whose work I have studied the most is historical fiction writer Harold Lamb. There are a lot of writers, no longer with us, who I would love to meet and talk craft with, but Lamb is the only one whom I’ve dreamt of meeting, no less than three times!
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Know what each of your characters want from the scene before you sit down to write it.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
I’m not sure I have an answer. Now that I’m in my mid-forties I either tend to say what I think on a subject or keep my mouth shut because it’s not worth the effort trying to convince some people.
Who was your first girlfriend?
Emily Stewart, 4th grade. She was smart, funny, and cute.
What is your happiest childhood memory?
There are too many to choose just one. I had a wonderful childhood. Early Saturday morning cartoons with my sister. My dad playing guitar. Building Legos with Bryan and Aaron Brooks. Watching original Star Trek reruns on Sunday mornings. My mom reading to me (she introduced me to The Hobbit!). Playing Dungeons and Dragons with Sean Connelly and Jon Baker. Staying out late playing “ditch” at the park. Playing with Micronauts with Mike Boone and, later, riding all over town with him on our 10 speeds. Playing sax in junior high jazz band. Playing in high school rock bands with Brad Ennen. Playing with my dog. I was very, very lucky. I didn’t have that whole “tortured artist” background.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
Working as a student assistant in the Music Theory department at Indiana State University. It was a lot of fun. I got to record all of the audio for music theory lab assignments, which meant finding obscure and interesting snippets of music and then dubbing the voiceover introductions. I had a little more fun with those voiceovers than I was probably supposed to, but the professors had sense of humor, so it was fine.
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
I’ve had a lot of bad days over the years, and pretty much just roll with them now. If it’s really bad I suppose I call my wife, who has been my best friend for more than twenty years.
When was the last time you cried?
Unfortunately, that’s been in the last few weeks. My mom had a heart attack, and then a triple heart bypass. Her life has changed, drastically, and it’s been a tough time for her… and hard to watch.
Where can readers stalk you?
You can find me at www.howardandrewjones.com, where I post several times a week. I also post at Black Gate (www.blackgate.com) once a week or so, usually Mondays. E-mail me at joneshoward AT insightbb.com if you want to talk writers or the craft of writing. I’m generally able to respond pretty quickly. I’m on Facebook at, wait for it, Howard Andrew Jones. And my Twitter handle is howardandrewjon, although I don’t actually spend much time there.
As a snowfall blankets 8th century Mosul, a Persian noblewoman arrives at the home of the scholar Dabir and his friend the swordsman Captain Asim. Najya has escaped from a dangerous cabal that has ensorcelled her to track down ancient magical tools of tremendous power, the bones of the old ones.
To stop the cabal and save Najya, Dabir and Asim venture into the worst winter in human memory, hunted by a shape-changing assassin. The stalwart Asim is drawn irresistibly toward the beautiful Persian even as Dabir realizes she may be far more dangerous a threat than anyone who pursues them, for her enchantment worsens with the winter. As their opposition grows, Dabir and Asim have no choice but to ally with their deadliest enemy, the treacherous Greek necromancer, Lydia. But even if they can trust one another long enough to escape their foes, it may be too late for Najya, whose soul is bound up with a vengeful spirit intent on sheathing the world in ice for a thousand years...
“The Bones of the Old Ones is a damn good tale that not only pays homage to the masters, but sets its own print on the genre.” --SF Signal
“This rousing sequel to The Desert of Souls offers a mélange of ancient adventure myths populated by convincing, endearing characters… As intricately woven as the magic carpet of Greek sorceress Lydia, Jones’s tale incorporates real historical personages and settings like Mosul of “haggard beauty” from the early days of Islam, and fills the pages with gallantry and glamour to provide a thrilling spectacle.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review
This is the classic fantasy tale of the heroes struggling to hang on while on a deadly mission. However, Jones takes it to new levels and delivers an action-packed tale. The world building is absolutely stunning as readers are given rich and detailed descriptions that imagining their world comes effortless. The writing style of Jones is beautiful and gives the opportunity for readers to fully engage with the dilemma the protagonists face. The characters are crafted-well with precision care and thought. Dabir and Asim continue to grow character-wise as they go through a fast-paced action-adventure. The storyline is unique, refreshing and set in a real place. The use of actual locations provided much depth to another adventure of Dabir and Asim. The Bones of The Old Ones is a great continuation to The Desert of Souls and I am certain it will continue this tradition when the third book is released.
You can purchase The Bones of the Old Ones at the following Retailers: