Meet fantastic Italian artist Daniela Giubellini

Today we get to chat with artist Daniela Giubellini, a great lady and friend of mine who hails from the land of Michelangelo and Da Vinci and creates fantastic, beautiful images of her own. She has designed the three gorgeous characters portraits of Romulus, Sabrina and Max for my Romulus Buckle novel series and we are planning on putting together a children’s book she will illustrate.

Romulus Buckle Back Rif 2It won’t surprise you to learn that she has a number of other professional projects under way as well, and I feel extremely lucky that she takes the time to work with me. Let’s get to know Daniela Giubellini!

Quest 2 1Q: Hi Daniela! Thank you so much for taking the time to guest post on my blog. Please introduce us to your art and what you do:

A: Hey there! I’m Daniela and… how do other people do interviews? I have to talk about me, right? Well, that scares me to hell! I’m one of those creatures that during the day hides in dark places and loves to draw. We are called illustrators. I guess we are very shy and fascinating creatures You surely have met some of them, though they show themselves mostly when the sun goes down.

l.phpWhat am I up to? Right now I’m making concept art for Studio Croma, a stop motion studio in Bologna and I’m teaching Photoshop and digital painting in a high school to other little creatures called “illustrators’ cubs”.

Q: I love the idea of ‘illustrators’ cubs!’ You designed and created the character portraits of the three main characters from my Romulus Buckle novels: they have a fabulous look—could you tell us a little about your technique and process involved? Is there a specific name for this style of art?

Quest 2 _2A: I don’t use a technique in particular; I like to experiment a lot! It also depends on what inspired me and on what I’m working on. Right now I like to work with forms and silhouettes, with a sort of gummy taste on the images. But I usually use the gray scale technique (the one where you paint everything in gray scale and slowly add colors later, it works fine for me!)

Romu Max the martian RifA piece of advice? Never think that finding perfection in the technique is more important that the passion you can put in your work.The truth is that what you need most are love and passion. I’ve seen professional artists who mastered the technique giving life to soulless perfection, and guys who had barely touched a pencil before showing me images that I’ll never forget.

Wow, sorry, that sounded cheap! But yeah, then again: if you want to work, of course you need the technique, but heart is what makes you different from the others (says a young woman that sounds like someone who wants to be a Disney princess!)

Quest 3 _1Q: I agree–heart is everything, combined with the discipline to learn the technique. What unique artistic challenges did you face when creating the character portraits?

A: I believe that there’s always a boundary between the character and the creator.
I try to understand what it is, and then I show that with my image . . . well, I try. And usually there’s always so little time to know all about the character you’re about to work on. It’s important to me that the character’s owner sees his own character and not a generic book-cover-shot. Every character has a soul and a story, I just want to make the viewer to feel it.

Quest 3 _2Q: For readers who don’t know you, can we see some other examples of your art and some of the many other projects you’ve done? Can you tell us a bit about the atmosphere or effect you wanted to create with each image? (Pick a few of your favorites here)

A: Argh! My most recent work is covered by contract, so I can’t show you!

Quest 4 _1Well, I really like these two from The Circus of Namtas (one of my projects that is waiting for me to finish it). Those are kinda old images, despite the fact that I’ve never published one of those. There are plenty of images I’ve never found the right moment to show . . . I should do it one time.

Quest 4 _2I’ve done this one (below) for Laura Fornasari, a dear friend of mine, for the cover of her book Tears of Ishtar. I chose it because it’s one of the few pieces which I actually have something more I want to say about it. Laura has always been incredible in writing good action and characters you care about, so I wanted to show that on the cover of her book.

Quest 4 _3I wanted to show two of the main characters in a tense situation, so the viewer is led to wonder what is happening to them, or who they are, what have they done. Why is there a fire behind their back? Why one of them is green? Is it in the book or . . . well, you get the point. In general, I want to give the viewer something to fantasize about.

And this is my favorite. I will leave you to wonder about this one.

Quest 4 _4Q: I absolutely love that picture! Who are your favorite artists? Which artists tend to influence your work?

A: I really like Boris Pelcer, Wesley Burt, Joao Ruas and James Jean. Also Zdzislaw Beksinski and HR Giger inspired me a lot.

Quest 5 _1But actually i’d say movies and Directors influence me the most. I love Tarkowsky’s locations and atmosphere, and Hitchcock for lights and shots. Also David Lynch for mind-fuck moments (and furniture!) and Lars Von Triers for aesthetic.

Quest 5 _2Also music is a big inspiration for me. When I feel out of ideas, I have a list of songs that put me in the mood. And one thing that never fails to cheer me up is Weapon of Choice by Fatboy Slim, with a dancing Christopher Walken–it is the most epic thing I can imagine.

l.php 2Q: Movies and music are such a great inspiration! I love this haunting, beautiful GiF from a Tarkowsky film you posted on Facebook a while back:

giphy Russia DGOkay!  What’s coming up next?

A: Don’t know right now, but I have a couple of ideas, and also something that I hope that turns out really well for me and the people I’m working with.

Q: Ah the secret project! Good luck with it! You recently traveled to the United States. What was your favorite location you visited?

A: Argh, that’s also a tough question! I had a road trip with two dear friends. We took a car and we traveled across New England and Vermont. We also visited Chicago and I found the view of the skyscrapers mesmerizing. The food is crazy in every sense.
Chicago is awesome, wonderful experience.

Romu Sabrina RifOne day in Vermont we decided to reach our destination without the car, just to breathe fresh air and see some wildlife. After 4 hours of walking under the sun on a congested road we… we started to think that that wasn’t a great idea after all. We looked at the map we took at the souvenir shop just to find out that the distances were wrong and that we still had three more hours of walking to reach . . . the History of Maple Syrup Museum? We went back to town and spent the rest of the day eating waffles.
We saw a cow giving birth on the side of the road–doh!

Q: Lol! Well, I have to tell you, the long distances, congested roads, getting lost, cows and stuffing one’s self with waffles are all important parts of the American experience! And now, a few offbeat questions to showcase your wonderful Italian personality. First, what is your favorite restaurant and your favorite dish there?

A: Ah ah, all my favorite dishes are exotic, like sushi and chicken with curry. That’s not so Italian from me! Anyway if you want to check two typical dishes from where I’m from, you can try “Cappelletti parmigiani” (stuffed pasta) and “Torta d’erbi” (herbal cake).

Quest 11 2Q: Second, if you were reincarnated as an animal, what would you be?

A: Ah ah, it’s The Visit question! (Yeah, I watch Shyamalan, shame on me, but I’ve become a big horror fan thanks to him). Anyway I love this question! Let me think…
I usually think that bees and ants are the best, and that cockroaches will conquer the earth… but I never wanted to be one of a million, and nobody wants to be a cockroach obviously… Pokemon is not a valid answer I guess . . . an owl. I’d be an owl.

l.php 3Q: Owl is good! Lastly, if you had to select one of your pieces of artwork to serve as your tombstone epitaph, what would it be?

A: I’m always torn between being poetic or silly as fuck. But life is ironic so, I’m gonna go with this completely out of contest one:

Quest 10Thanks so much for sharing, Daniela Giubellini!

Dani: Thanks to you Richard!


oh_my_god__by_rivan145th-d594wzuDaniela Giubellini lives in Bologna, Italy.


Meet a rising star: author Berit Ellingsen

I’m honored and excited to have author Berit Ellingsen to the blog today! She lives and works in Norway, and if you check out her Facebook page you’ll see she roams around a lot and her photos have a lot of snow, ice, water and cats in them. I read her brilliant, impressively reviewed novel, Not Dark Yet, as a part of a Jeff VanderMeer Holiday storybundle a few months ago, I still think about it often, and I highly recommend it.

NotDarkYetFor starters, I’d like to put my reaction to Not Dark Yet here, written right after I read it:

“Just finished “Not Dark Yet” by Berit Ellingsen. Her novel was recommended by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer as a part of their Winter Mix Tape Storybundle. “Not Dark Yet” is a brilliant story about human love and frailty in a time of earth-catastrophe, written with a crystal clear sense of the moment but also haunted by a dreamlike undercurrent of something akin to synchronicity. One of those books you don’t soon forget.”

(Berit was kind enough to have a further discussion with me about her book, and I’ve included the full transcript of that conversation at the end of the Q&A section). I have no doubt that Berit will be a fun, informative interview, so let’s get to it.

Q) Hi, Berit! Thank you so much for guesting on my blog! I guess the first question should be, is Not Dark Yet your first novel?

A) Thank you so much for inviting me to guest blog! I’m very happy to be here.
My first novel is The Empty City, which was translated to French by writer, translator, and publisher Francois Bon. The Empty City is a novel about silence and emptiness in the urban environment and is a sort of prequel to Not Dark Yet in that it shares a protagonist and some of the setting.

The Empty Cityune_ville_vide







Q) Yes, I immediately did sense the thematic connection between the books as you described The Empty City. Could you provide us with a brief introduction to the story of Not Dark Yet?

A) In Not Dark Yet a man leaves his boyfriend and apartment in the city for a cabin in the mountains. His relationship has come to a head and he’s had an affair that for reasons revealed in the novel went really wrong as well. At the same time he has applied for the newly announced astronaut selection and starts training for it. He also joins his farmer neighbors on their project of clearing the moor around the cabin to grow cereals, because the climate has become warm enough to make this possible, and the neighbors want to take advantage of the new opportunities that are opening up.

berit_iceQ) Is Not Dark Yet an entirely fictional world or do you employ actual locations, institutions and even real people, or at least have elements inspired by the real life versions?

A) I didn’t include any real life people or place names, but the climate change science and data about what’s happening with various plant and animals species as the environment changes are taken from various articles about climate change. The science in the novel is as close to correct as I could get it, to emphasize the climate change that is happening and what it might lead to, so that those effects aren’t just dismissed as “fantasy”, but that the reader realizes it is something that could happen in our world too.

I’m a science writer and follow climate science news, and used much of that in the novel.

Parts of some of the buildings mentioned in the novel, especially the laboratory in the start, the foyer at the space organization, and the restaurant in the hotel towards the end are from buildings that exist in our world. For example, the restaurant in the hotel is inspired by the restaurant in the Grand Hotel Des Bains in Venice where the film version of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice was made. But other parts of the same hotel, such as the bar, are entirely fictional. I like architecture and interior design, so rooms and spaces are fun to create and think up.

humanity-of-monstersQ) It is fun to invent physical spaces, isn’t it? I would say that Not Dark Yet is a warning. It’s a warning that our planet is inexorably sliding into disaster if we don’t deal with what we’re doing to our ecology and climate. It’s not the only thing the book is about by a long shot but would you say that’s a fair overall assessment?

A) Very much so! In the world of Not Dark Yet, climate change has gone a little farther than it has in our world, and progressed to what is called exponential climate change, where the climate and environmental variables change with exponential speed, due to self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in the climate systems. These mechanisms are in effect today, and many climate scientists fear that some of them, such as the melting of the Arctic sea ice, will start to change exponentially. At any rate, the world in Not Dark Yet is one where climate change has really begun to make itself known, to everyone all over the planet, even in the temperate zone and rich countries.

tibetan-monkQ) When we discussed Not Dark Yet before, you mentioned worrying that some westerners might be put off by the strong eastern-oriented cultural currents in the book, such as the Tao and the experience of the Buddhist monk. Was that worry justified in the reactions from readers? Personally, I loved those elements of the story.

A) I’m so glad you did, and I have heard from other readers who enjoyed it too, which I’m glad they did.

I think especially the chapter about the self-mummification hits a nerve with some people, and it is meant to do that. The way we view death in our modern societies is very impersonal and almost like death is the ultimate illness that we can’t wait to get rid of some day. So why would anyone who isn’t deeply depressed or politically brainwashed or terminally ill go towards death voluntarily? I found it difficult to understand myself when I read about it, but to approach an understanding one must know a bit about Buddhism and zen and how they view death, the mind, and the body. That said, the self-mummification process was rare even during those times when it was practiced, and understandably, only a very few did it. Today, Buddhist mummies are found in Japan, Tibet, Vietnam, China, and I assume Korea as well.

Some readers said they thought of the mummy and self-mummification process almost as an astronaut, someone leaving the Earth, and saw parallels between the protagonist’s training for the astronaut selection and the training that the self-mummifying monk does. That was something I hadn’t intended, so it was very cool readers “discovered” it.

writing penQ) That is extremely cool. I love first and last lines in novels. I spend a lot of time on my opening and closing paragraphs, and often I already have both figured out before I even start writing the rest of the novel. I don’t know why I do that, exactly, other than wanting to start and end on a hook or a bang, but knowing how I open and close the story is a kind of anchor for both ends of the yet-to-be-created book, and reassuring, I guess. The opening line of Not Dark Yet is fantastic:

“Sometimes, in Brandon Minamoto’s dreams, he found a globe or a map of the world with a continent he hadn’t seen before.”

That got me. I need a good first sentence. When I browse in bookstores I often choose books to read based solely on what their first sentence does for me. Do you agonize over first sentences and last? First paragraphs and last?

A) I’m so glad you enjoyed that first line. That actually comes from a recurring dream I had when I would find a new continent on a map and think “How on Earth did I not see that before?” and I would be so happy over the discovery, and disappointed when it turned out only to be a dream.

I don’t agonize over first sentences and last, I tend to go with the first things that come to mind. But I do edit the first and the last chapters very carefully and reflect over whether they are the best start and the best ending for the story. I usually know what the ending will be, and work towards it during the first draft. Since I only plan the plot sketchily, a lot changes during writing and editing, and chapters tend to change places too. I regard it as experiments, and try different configurations to find the chapter sequence and plot structure that suits the story the best.

nordaustlandetQ) As a Scandinavian, do you find that your harsh and beautiful environment influences your writing? If it does, do you involve it intentionally or does it just force its way into your writing? I ask this because I spent much of my life in Canada, and I have a great love/hate relationship with freezing weather and snow, but there’s no avoiding how wonderfully dramatic that kind of weather and landscape is.

A) The more I keep writing, the more I see how much the Scandinavian landscapes and environments influence my writing. I thought maybe it didn’t, but with Not Dark Yet I really see it clearly. That said, Not Dark Yet is not necessarily set in Scandinavia, since the climate and landscape of southern Scandinavia is shared with much of the rest of Europe, and the landscape of northern Scandinavia is similar to that of Alaska and Northern Russia.

All of the natural world influences my writing a lot, from climate and landscape, to animals and plants, and the living conditions for the people in it. These themes will probably continue to recur in my stories, whether they are set in the past or present or future.

beneaththeliquidskin_coverQ) Let’s move on to your writing method. I like to heavily outline my story with 3×5 cards and then manipulate them as I go along. Do you outline a lot or just proceed with a general idea of where you’re heading with the story?

A) I only make a very loose outline and go from there. That does tend to make for a lot of changes in editing and sometimes I have to print everything out to be able to move chapters around like a puzzle to try out various sequences. Cards might be a better way to do that. But every time I plan a story in detail, by the time I’ve arrived there, a lot has changed. I usually have an image I start with, and an ending, and try to reach that no matter how far removed it seems to be from the start. Sometimes I begin with the ending. For novels I see that planning a general structure is a good idea, but not go into details. Often it feels like I’m reading a story as I write. I’m writing it, but I’m also the story’s first reader.

Q) Do you have a strict writing schedule or get your work done in whatever windows the day offers? Do you write every day?

A) I would like to write or edit every day, but that’s not always possible. I don’t believe in a very strict schedule, because as a writer, I also need the time between projects to grow new ideas and inspiration and information and get new impulses and learn new things useful for writing. And some days the writing is just not there, while other times editing must take the front seat. I do like to edit as well, so that’s almost as fun as writing new things. I blame the liking for editing on my days as a computer gamer, where doing things over and over, while improving a little bit every day, was part of the game. Without that I wouldn’t have had the patience for round after round of editing.

Flash Fiction Intl_FINAL.inddQ) I think I saw that you have a new novel in the final stages of editing/polish. Can you give us a little teaser on what that one is about? And what are you plotting next, writing-wise?

A) I have a fantasy novella in the works I wrote a long time ago and didn’t know how to edit into shape. With more writing and editing experience, the novella has finally found its form. It’s about a scientist who has discovered that the Earth orbits the sun and not the other way around, as people believed for centuries, and is trying to convince her colleagues about this, despite many difficulties. The story is a twisted fairytale set in a city built on an enormous spiraling conch. I even think there’s a mummy in there too.
I’m also editing a novel set in the same world as Not Dark Yet, but introducing new characters. I can’t say much about it yet, since it will hopefully go into slush soon.

Q) Those ideas sound great! This has been awesome! I like to finish up with my guests by asking the same three questions so here we go: If you had to place a line from one of your books on your headstone, what would it be?

A) I think I would prefer this famous haiku by Basho:

summer grasses
all that remains
of warriors dreams

Q) I love haiku! What is your favorite restaurant and what is your favorite meal there?

A) (see answer below)

Ice aerial

Photograph courtesy of Karen Leigre.

Q) If you could be an animal, what would it be and why?

A) Since I don’t have a favorite restaurant, I’ll give you three animals instead. I would have loved to be a snow leopard roaming the Himalayas, although in a world that was not getting warmer and warmer and having less and less space for far-roaming animals such as the snow leopard.

I have seen images of the beaches of South Georgia in the southern sea, not far from Antarctica. The King Penguins there seem to be living in a primal paradise, with the ocean, the snow-covered mountain, and grassy meadows. One Norwegian wildlife photographer has called the conditions there “paradisiacal”, and I would agree. Being a King Penguin there looks like the perfect life. But sadly, also this population is shrinking.

polar bearThird, the life of a polar bear in an Arctic that was not vanishing, but stable and still containing sea ice and food, looks like a hard, but beautiful animal life. Like the snow leopard, the polar bear roams vast distances, and it is perfectly suited to its habitat.
Yet with the world being what it is today, I think I prefer being a human.

Thank you so much for interviewing me for your blog.

You are welcome! I’d like to thank Berit Ellingsen for dropping by the blog and participating in this wonderful chat about her books and writing process. If you didn’t already pick up on this, Not Dark Yet is fabulous and I highly recommend it.

Also, I’ve included my entire FACEBOOK conversation with Berit below, from the day she was kind enough to respond to my note on her book, and we talked about some of the fascinating elements of her story:

“Richard Ellis Preston Jr: For starters, I’d like to put my reaction to “Not Dark Yet” here, right after I read it: “Just finished “Not Dark Yet” by Berit Ellingsen. Her novel was recommended by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer as a part of their Winter Mix Tape Storybundle. “Not Dark Yet” is a brilliant story about human love and frailty in a time of earth-catastrophe, written with a crystal clear sense of the moment but also haunted by a dreamlike undercurrent of something akin to synchronicity. One of those books you don’t soon forget.”

Berit Ellingsen: Thank you so much, Richard! Very happy to hear you enjoyed it! What examples of synchronicity did you find?

Tao_Te_ChingRichard Ellis Preston Jr.: Yay I get to discuss with the author! It was a really cool sense, Berit, and I’m not sure if “synchronicity” is the right word, which is why I added “akin to,” but I’ll elaborate. I had to look up the term to make sure I’m applying it the way I want to, and Jung’s description of “(synchronistic) events are ‘meaningful coincidences’ if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related” seems right. 1) The intense, (apparently epileptic?) bright light which rises nightly inside the narrator and takes him away from the physical world seemed to me to be strongly but inexplicably linked to the powerfully described interior experience of death (brightness) for the monk in the shrine when he performed what I assume is Sokushinbutsu. Both experiences, though causally unrelated beyond the narrator passing the mummy in the shrine on a tourist visit, seem to be related and important because they both seem to signal a return to nothingness, or a Tao-like absorption back into the whole, as the narrator senses so strongly at the end of the book. 2) Also, the attack of the owl and the out-of-whack storms and balances of the natural world are superficially separate but more easily related, as natural elements mankind alters and seeks to control turn on him in a chaotic result proving potentially deadly for both parties involved.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: Now that I’m thinking about it, I also would like to add that perhaps the narrator is the monk reincarnated/reborn in the Buddhist tradition, which would be interesting in the sense that through his meditations and purely natural self-mummification he has earned glimpses of the brightness (enlightenment) of Nirvana but the collapse of the natural world has screwed both his and the world’s evolving consciousness up as well. The narrator and the world are sitting in a heap of bad karma, literally.

VanderMeer Story BundleBerit Ellingsen: That’s an impressively thorough reading and understanding, Richard Ellis Preston Jr.! You are right on all accounts. Are you familiar with the Buddhist and Taoist traditions? They certainly inspired the book.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: Thanks, Berit – that’s quite a compliment coming from you. I’m big into the Tao and meditation, so I’m familiar with some elements of the Buddhist tradition. I was aware of the monk self-mummification, but I had to look up the actual word for it. That chapter was one of my favorites in the book.

Berit Ellingsen: Wow, Richard, I’m so glad and surprised to hear that. I actually thought most people would dislike that chapter because it looks so extreme from the view of a modern western life. I submitted the chapter a few places but I don’t think they liked it much. Some readers have said they enjoyed it. I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Taoist and Buddhist traditions. I find contemplative taoism and zen Buddhism say some very important things about life. When I researched the mummification, the articles emphasized that it was relatively rare, although mummies are found in Japan, Korea, China and Tibet. Probably other East-Asian countries too.

Richard Ellis Preston Jr.: The Tao is the best tool I personally have to understand life. I thought the monk chapter was a vivid, non-judgmental look into a real ritual I had never seen before. You did a fantastic job on the book. You certainly won me over as a fan. Bravo.”


berit_bearBerit Ellingsen is the author of two novels, Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio), and Une ville vide (PublieMonde), as well as a collection of short stories, Beneath the Liquid Skin(Queen’s Ferry Press). Berit’s work has been published in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Litro, and other places, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. Berit travels between Norway and Svalbard in the Arctic, and is a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union.

Other works
Not Dark Yet
Une ville vide
The Humanity of Monsters
Flash Fiction International
Beneath the Liquid Skin

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Author and Illustrator Roberto Calas stops by the Blog

For those who like my Snow World map for Romulus Buckle and the Luminiferous Aether plus the wonderfully mysterious cover and ancient Egyptian map for my League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab novel, you need to meet Roberto Calas, who created both. He is a writer and illustrator and a member of the Westmarch Publishing collective I am also a part of. He writes of the bloody, fabulous Middle Ages, loves a girl in England and I’m finally going to get to have a beer with him at AnomalyCon this spring. So, let’s chat with Roberto, seen below in full, dashingly-sweaty plate armor.

AuthorPic_ArmorRichard: Thanks so much for taking the time for this blog, Roberto! How about you introduce us to the magnificent writer/artist/soothsayer Sir Roberto Calas and what you do:

Roberto: Thanks very much for inviting me to speak on your blog, Richard. As you mentioned, I am, indeed, a soothsayer. That is my primary calling, and I have worked at it for years. I’ve never actually predicted anything properly, but I’ve been really, really close at times. For example, the other day, I *almost* predicted which line at the supermarket would *not* move the slowest. And, once, I very nearly picked the winner of a football game. When I’m not making faulty prophesies, I am an author, and when I’m not writing, I am a graphic artist. And when I’m not a graphic artist, I am sleeping.

Richard: Sleep is never overrated. You designed and created the Snow World map for me in my new steampunk novel, Romulus Buckle and the Luminiferous Aether. Could you tell us about your technique and process as you built the map?

TheSnowWorldMap_Final_HiResRoberto: The Snow World map was a tricky one to design, mostly because the author I was working with was a pain in the ass. Wait… I mean, this map was a tricky one because of the complexity of the world, and the scale of the map. Seriously, though, we did a lot of back and forth on this one, and the many revisions we went through helped to make this map one of my favorites ever. I started with a map of California and recreated it in Illustrator. I added hand-drawn mountains, cities, places of interest, waterlines and a few other basics, then brought the whole thing into Photoshop and began adding layer after layer of detail and color and effects. I think I had about eighty or ninety layers when the map was finally finished. That’s a bit of a challenge in itself, as I work with an older laptop and opening files like that can take ages.

Richard: Wow. I didn’t know it was that much work. I am an ass. Ah, well, it’s your fault. Moving on. What special artistic concerns do you face when creating a map for a novel? (Below is the map Roberto created for my “The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab” Young Adult Adventure Novel)

Map_PurpleScarab_Final_1500Roberto: The main challenge I face is trying to tap into the author’s vision. It’s a bit like someone saying to you, “Hey, I had this awesome dream last night. I’m not going to tell you what it was, but it involved Aborigines and mayonnaise jars. Can you make a sketch of my dream for me?” It takes a few passes usually to get in sync.

Richard: LOL! For readers who don’t know you, can we look at some examples of your book cover art? Can you tell us a bit about the atmosphere you wanted to create with each image? (Pick a few of your favorites here)

Roberto: I have a lot of favorites, but I’ll limit myself to three.

The first is a cover I did for Scott Magner’s wonderful Seasons of Truth historical fantasy series. I did four covers for that series, each featuring a tree, each depicting a season, and each with blood somewhere in the picture. For Spring, I used a blossoming tree, but blood dripped from all the branches on the bottom and spattered onto the ground. I had to hand paint the blood and many of the tree blossoms, and I think the effect came out kinda nice.

Spring_1000The second is the cover for book three of my historical fantasy series, The Scourge—a book called Emaculum. I like this one for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, because I used my fiancée as the model for the main character’s wife. She dressed up in a medieval dress that her mother made for her and we went to Bodiam Castle, in Sussex, and I took scores of pictures. But the cover just works for me. It shows the pressing drive of a knight trying to reach his wife, stone crosses all around (some of them bleeding), and his wife looking down on him benevolently from above.

Final_Digital_2000To pick a third is difficult because there are so many that I like. But if I had to pick one, it would probably one of the many that I did for Stant Litore’s novels and short stories. Just to pick one at Random, I’ll point out the cover for The Running of the Tyrannosaurs. This was a sci-fi story about women being objectified in the distant future. The women are athletes, and they are made to run from Tyrannosaurs. It’s a very deep, philosophical and emotional story, but when he approached me and started talking to me about it, I stopped him halfway through and said, “Stant, you had me at naked women being chased by dinosaurs.” The problem, as I learned, is that it’s actually really hard to make a classy cover featuring naked women being chased by dinosaurs. They all ended up looking like Cinemax After Dark prehistoric erotica. But I think I finally found the right mood to reflect the profound sensibilities of the book—the sense of sadness and futility, the frustration of those trapped in a system of abuse. And, I got to put a hot chick on the cover with two dinosaurs behind her. Score!

91SmLM+LtiLRichard: That is a great list. I also thought the covers you did for Scott were immensely emotive. “Emaculum” is great. And yes, I say SCORE on Stant’s book! I’m gonna add a look at the cover you did for my The League of the Sphinx: the Purple Scarab because I love it and hey, it is my blog.

rev1_LeagueOfSphinxFINAL_1000Okay, so ummmmm, let’s dig a bit deeper into your inner Rembrandt. Who are your favorite artists? Which artists tend to influence your work?

Roberto: My favorites growing up were the fantasy artists. Frank Frazetta will always be my favorite. I also still revere artists like Michael Whelan, John Howe, and Alan Lee. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed some of Victoria Frances’ work. But there is so much artwork out there. I spend hours on Deviant Art and CGNetworks sometimes. The internet is awesome for stealing hours and hours of time, just moving from one piece of art to the next.

Frank Frazetta - Calendrier 1996 - 06Richard: I love that Frank Frazetta painting. I once wrote an entire screenplay looking at that image. It didn’t sell. But I do want to turn the idea into a novel someday. Tell us about your novels and what’s coming up next.

Roberto: My most popular series is The Scourge trilogy (Scourge, Nostrum, Emaculum–ed.) It’s about 14th century knight (Edward Dallingridge, who actually existed and actually built Bodiam Castle, in Sussex) who is trying to reach his wife amid a horrible new plague that turns its victims into demons. The two of them are a hundred miles apart, separated by geography and the masses of violent plague victims. Sir Edward and two of his knights travel across this nightmarish landscape, finding that the survivors of the plague tend to be worse than the plague victims. It’s a love story, with lots of black humor, lots of action, and a healthy dose of history.

I’m currently working on a new fantasy novel, tentatively called The Madness of Valatriste. It’s about an insane thief named Tercero who finds the slaughtered caravan of a duke and his court. Tercero—who has powers that are either real or imagined—decides to impersonate the duke and rule over the province of Valatriste. There’s much, much more to the story, but if you boil it down, those are the bones.

51K7wcJkkTL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Richard: I love the new title. You come up with great titles. You go back and forth to England a lot, I know. I’m a bit of an anglophile too, having been there twice. You do a lot of research on the Emerald Isle—can you tell us a bit about that? Can you show us a few photos of the real locations that appear in your novels?

Roberto: I’ve been traveling to England quite often for the past six years. I could say that it’s my meticulous attention to detail that takes me there, but the real reason I go there is to see my fiancée, Annabelle. It’s the ultimate long-distance relationship, but when you find the right person, distance is only a minor hurdle. When I am with Annabelle, I get to tour the English countryside, and do research for my books. But it’s more than that. My visits to England actually inspire my work. Those who know me sometimes spot the similarities between my life and the storyline in The Scourge. I learned about Edward Dallingridge (hero of The Scourge, if you haven’t been paying attention) while visiting Bodiam Castle with my fiancée, and he kind of stuck in my mind. The Scourge storyline is about Sir Edward traveling a long distance, through dozens of obstacles, to reach his love, Elizabeth. Kind of a microcosm of what I do to see Annabelle. Interestingly, Elizabeth waits for Edward in the same city that my fiancée lives in. And, also interestingly, I fight zombie-like plague victims all the time in my life. See? Lots of parallels. (Author’s photo of the superb Bodiam Castle, below)

Bodiam Castle Calas The ScourgeRichard: Love will make a man travel many miles, and that the added creative bonus of England obviously helps your creative sensibilities. And now, a few oddball questions for you to show off your wit and glowing personality. First, what is your favorite restaurant and your favorite dish there?

Roberto: I have two favorite restaurants, one in the US and one in the UK. Domestically, there’s a place here in Norwalk, Connecticut, called Barcelona. They have the best meat parillada I’ve ever tasted. The UK equivalent to Barcelona is an Argentinian steakhouse called Gaucho, located in London, near Tower Bridge. Both are awesome, and both cater to my carnivore diet. I also have a fondness for a restaurant called Middletons, in Norwich, UK. It’s become a favorite spot for Annabelle and me.

Richard: Second, if you were reincarnated as an animal, what would you be?

Roberto: It would have to be some sort of carnivorous animal that sleeps a lot. A lion maybe. Although lions probably aren’t scared of spiders.

Feeding the GodsRichard: Lol! Lastly, if you had to select a line from one of your novels to be your tombstone epitaph, what would it be?

Roberto: There’s probably two that would fit equally well:

1. In these times of madness, only madness will save us.
2. Our bodies turn to shit when they have passed through the bowels of life, and the spice of hatred only makes us smell worse.

Richard: Okay, well I’d crack up at your headstone if you selected #2. Great discussion and great answers! Thanks, Roberto Calas!


Roberto Calas NYCCRoberto Calas (in armor, again, as always, above) is an author and lover of history. His serial trilogy (The Scourge) is about a 14th century knight fighting his way through a demon-infested England to reunite with the woman he loves. And every bit of it is true except for the made up parts.

In addition to The Scourge series, Roberto has written The Beast of Maug Maurai (fantasy), and Kingdom of Glass (historical fiction in the Foreworld universe). He lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut with his two children, and visits the United Kingdom on occasion to be with his woman, Annabelle. Sometimes he fights demons to reach her.

You can learn more about Roberto on his website:
He’d be most appreciative if you liked his facebook page, too:
And if you feel you can only take 140 characters worth of him at a time, his twitter handle is @robertocalas.


Exclusive Snow World Map reveal at Airship Ambassador

Hey! For those of you who asked, I had the multi-talented Roberto Calas put together a map of the Romulus Buckle series Snow World, and it is fantastic. It’s inside Romulus Buckle and the Luminiferous Aether, of course, but it also got a nice reveal on Kevin Steil’s Airship Ambassador website, along with a few other tidbits.

TheSnowWorldMap_Final_HiResFor those of you who asked, I hope you can find your way around the novels a little more easily now.

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