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: AUTHOR INFO

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: 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.

 

Enter to Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and get a FREE Kindle copy of “The Purple Scarab!”

I’m running a 2 Day Amazon FREE Kindle Special on my new YA Adventure novel, “The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab!” The novel is free to download to your Kindle Feb 10-11. Also, check out the associated Giveaway below!rev1_LeagueOfSphinxFINAL_1000 THE GIVEAWAY: If on Feb 10/11 you help get the word out/support my indie author efforts through the Rafflecopter Contest window below, a Twitter RT/Follow or a Facebook author page LIKE each earns you an entry into my $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway! And, if you download the book and send me a picture of it on your Kindle as verification (via Twitter or FB), that earns you FIVE entries in the Giveaway! Plus you get the free book packed with high adventure, WW2 perils and mysterious ancient Egyptian mummies. I’d love to hear what you think of The Purple Scarab and what any preteens or teenagers in your world think of it. (And, of course, Amazon and Goodreads reviews are always MUCH appreciated!) Thank you!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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“The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab” Release Day

Well, the book is here. The League of the Sphinx: the Purple Scarab, Kindle version, has hit the digital shelves. The paperback edition will follow shortly, but I don’t have an exact date on that. I am really going to enjoy writing this 7-installment Middle Grade/Young Adult series and I hope you guys enjoy reading it. (And you can also read the Prologue FREE and check out a nice early review of the book at The Qwillery website.)

rev1_LeagueOfSphinxFINAL_500DoublePurpleScarab(Cover design by Roberto Calas) (Graphic Card design by Shelley Preston) (Double Cover/Graphic Card courtesy of J. Kenner)

The Wonderful Cover Designs & Art of Author Roberto Calas

I would like to introduce you to author/illustrator Roberto Calas on the blog today, and I’m excited to have him here. Roberto is one of those Renaissance men who can do Map_Tagged_PurpleScarab_Final_1500more than one thing well, and he is both an accomplished writer and a working book cover designer. Roberto designed the book cover for my The League of the Sphinx: the Purple Scarab novel and we’ll look at that later on. He also designed the book’s interior map of ancient Egypt which is age-ready and fantastic.

*(interior map for The League of the Sphinx:The Purple Scarab designed by Roberto Calas seen here on left.)

Roberto loves history much in the same way I do and he always provides a fun, informative interview, so let’s get to it!

Q) Okay, well, let’s start with your writing. You have completed the three books of your Scourge trilogy; can you introduce a new reader to the main premise of the series?

ScourgeCover_New_250Roberto: Thanks very much for having me on your blog, Richard. And yes, I’d love to talk about The Scourge. The book is a historical fantasy, set toward the end of the 14th century, in England. And while I pride myself on historical accuracy, this is not exactly your father’s England. Well, not your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s England either. This England has been afflicted by another great plague. Only, this plague turns its victims into mindless demons. The Archbishop of Canterbury forbids travel north of the Thames River, where the plague is much worse. But one man defies the Church. Sir Edward Dallingridge (a real 14th century knight and the real builder of Bodiam Castle) travels north with two of his fellow knights, because his wife was in Suffolk when the plague broke. Sir Edward is determined to find his wife and bring her home. But he has more than a hundred miles of demon-ravaged landscape to cross if he wants to reach her. And, as he learns, it’s not just the plague victims that he has to worry about.

NostrumCover900x600Q) I see that you travel to England a fair bit (I have been there twice and I hope to go about 15 more times), and I have seen you post pictures of churches and possibly other buildings which appear in the Scourge series. Is your main character based on a real person or is he entirely fictional but placed in a historically accurate setting?

Roberto: Everything in the Scourge is absolutely historically accurate, except the parts that aren’t. I was painstaking in my research. Traveled to every place I wrote about. Spoke with innumerable members of the National Trust and English Heritage. Collected suitcases full of literature on castles, churches and villages. Read books on the period and the characters. I even did the damned audio tours and didn’t skip over the boring parts. How’s that for dedication? So, despite the fantastical elements of the story, the book reads like a true historical fiction. With real characters from history, real places and real events.

EmaculumQ) What is 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?

Roberto: Ideas for stories are tiny seeds in my brain. No, seriously, when I was two, I put a twig with buds up my nose and part of it broke off. Was a real mess and my mom thinks a piece stayed in there. So I always like to think that the stories come from that tree. Um. Where was I? Oh, right, seeds in my brain. They start small, and I let them germinate and compete against each other until the strongest seed outpaces the others, and I realize that I have a story. When I finally go to write it, I determine characters and basic plot. Then I go into Excel and start plotting scenes (many of which will have already been catalog, tagged and released into the wild while the idea was gestating). I put down the keystone scenes, then spend a few days thinking of the other scenes. I try to get every scene in the book written down, along with brief, emotive notes about what has to go in the scene, or a snippet of dialog I thought of in that scene, etc. And when I have every scene plotted, I begin writing.

And, usually, I throw out about ½ to ¾ of the scenes and the story goes completely different places.

Q) That is very similar to my method, and I probably discard at least half of my original cards by the time I have finished. About your art skills–were you an art student or did you teach yourself?

Spring_1000Roberto: I’ve always had two loves in life: Coke and Twizzlers. And while eating and drinking those things, I found that enjoyed writing and making art. Of the two skills, I am by far a better writer than artist. Writing is the only thing I have ever been able to do better than anyone I know (not counting other authors, of course). I went to school for journalism, became a reporter, then magazine editor. And when the writing job market disappeared for a while in the 90s, I went back to school for design.

(*Book Design for Seasons of Truth:Spring on left by Roberto Calas)

Q) You run a book illustration business called Ravenscar and I see that you have done a fair number of covers. What has your experience been making covers with the author collective of Westmarch Publishing (of which we are both members)?

TheBigKeep_1200-641x1024Roberto: Making covers for Westmarch has been fantastic. We all know each other well (as well as you can know someone online (although I have met at least one of you)), and there is no pressure. There is only support. Because of this familiarity with the authors, I can really let myself go and try things that are way out there, knowing you won’t threaten to sue me or send someone over to remove my left kidney with a tuning fork. Some of my best covers have been for Westmarchers.

(*Cover design for The Big Keep seen at right by Roberto Calas)

Q) You manipulate a lot of stock images in your book covers, something that is very common now. What are the advantages and disadvantages of making art that way?

Ansible16_FinalishRoberto: Speed. To illustrate a cover by hand would take days and days and days. By using stock images, I can finish a cover in days and days and days. Wait a minute. What *is* the advantage to stock images? Hmm. Well, for one, my hand illustration skills can’t match some of the wonderful photographs out there. And while I tend to do a bit of hand illustration on most covers, I can speed things up by finding the perfect background, or the perfect character image. I also tend to use a 3D modeling and rendering to create elements that I need.

(* Cover design for Ansible 15716 by Roberto Calas)

Q: You have designed my The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab novel cover and I love it. We had a bit of a false start with it, and then you just took off and found the perfect image. Can you tell me about the process you used, and how you came up with the scene?

Roberto: I find that with 75% of the covers, the first one doesn’t work. I think of the first cover as a burning arrow. It strikes somewhere in the dark, illuminating the target. And then it lights the entire field on fire, and creates a massive grass-inferno that ravages the land. But it allows me and the author to see where the target is and adjust accordingly. Shame about the fire, but eggs and omelets, eh?

rev1_LeagueOfSphinxFINAL_500With the final version of The Purple Scarab, you had shown me some samples of covers you liked, and mentioned that you liked having a central element that takes the attention. When you said this, I knew right away that the scarab had to be the central image. So I set off to create the beetle in Maya (a high-end 3D program). It took me about four days and six different versions to get the scarab right, but once the beetle came together, I knew everything else would fall into place.

I used a stock image of the pyramids at night as a background, painted a bit in the night sky, and put the scarab in place. I spent a long time on the typography before coming up with the Eye of Horus R, and that seemed to tie it all together.

Q) Yes, I adore that R! (And I’d also like to note that I am writing The League of the Sphinx series as R.E. Preston, to separate it from my regular-adult stuff. All of my future Kids, MG and YA books will be in R.E. Preston mode.) Now that the Scourge series is complete, what have you got coming up, writing-wise?

BoMM_Book2_Cover_LBRoberto: I’m finishing the last book in my fantasy series, The Beast of Maug Maurai, then writing a Scourge novella starring everyone’s favorite character from the series—Sir Tristan. And then I’m looking forward to writing a book I have been aching to write for five years: A historical fantasy about a thief in the 16th century.

(* Cover design for The Beast of Maug Maurai on left by Roberto Calas)

Q) If you had to place a line from one of your books on your headstone, what would it be?

Roberto: “In these times of madness, only madness will save us.” It’s not the best quote in the books, but it gets repeated again and again, in a number of different ways, and has come to kind of symbolize Edward’s struggle. I don’t have any tattoos at the moment, but I plan to have that tattooed on my arm in Latin soon.

Q) You live in Sandy Hook, NH. What is your favorite restaurant there, and your favorite meal?

Roberto: Sandy Hook is a beautiful little section of Newtown, Connecticut. No one had ever heard of it. Not until December 14, 2012, when a 20-year-old with an arsenal of weapons walked into the elementary school and killed twenty children and six teachers. I have two children, twins, and if we had not decided to put them into a magnet school the year before, they would have been there that day. It affected me more than I would ever have imagined. Seeing the flowers and candles and teddy bears piled up to my shoulders. Having to drive every day through a town that had become a memorial was a lot to handle. I still get tears in my eyes when I think about it. I could have lost my children. And many others did. The shooting took place less than a mile from my house, and I still feel a horrible black spot on my soul from that day.

Shit, why am I talking about this?

Sandy Hook is a beautiful place. I love The Hook restaurant (excellent pizza and the owner is a Miami Dolphins fan, like me). And the Newtown Library is one of the best small town libraries I have ever been in.

Richard: I don’t see how living so close to such a horrific event can leave a person unscathed. I thought of it when I typed the question, actually. But I am glad that you still think so highly of the place. And I’m sure your restaurant is nice but, the Dolphins? I can’t point fingers though, since my team is the repeatedly-imploding Redskins.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank Roberto Calas for dropping by the blog and having a chat about his writing and his art. If you are a writer looking for a cover artist I would highly recommend Roberto’s cover design, both for how the art looks and how professional he is to work with.

ROBERTO CALAS: AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR BIO & CONTACTS

AuthorPic_ArmorRoberto Calas 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 a monthly basis to be with his fiancée, 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.