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.
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?
Roberto: 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)
Roberto: 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.
The 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.
To 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!
Richard: 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.
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.
Richard: 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.
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)
Richard: 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.
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: AUTHOR INFO
Roberto 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: robertocalas.com.
He’d be most appreciative if you liked his facebook page, too: https://www.facebook.com/RobertoCalasAuthor.
And if you feel you can only take 140 characters worth of him at a time, his twitter handle is @robertocalas.