Today I am excited not only because this is my first author interview on my blog but also because I get to share about an awesome story; BLACKSTONE AND BRENWEN – THE MIRROR AND THE MERETRIX. Oh, and we’re also doing a giveaway!
Anyone who’s following me on any form of social network or even took the time to ask me what I’ve been reading lately will know that I LOVED this book.
While reading, I kept thinking, “I can’t believe this guy isn’t famous yet! Why isn’t this book a best seller and why aren’t hordes of fans arguing and discussing who should play each character in a movie adaption?!”
In my humble opinion, some big publishing house better pick this guy up before their competition does.
From the first pages, I was sucked into the vividly described World Tree. The author managed a whimsical humor that never felt forced and was able to incorporate such a rich mixture of fairy tale lore into the story, ranging from Jack and the Beanstalk to Little Bo Peep, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and even Cinderella, among many, many others. The cast of main characters felt fully developed, natural and real.
The pace of the book is illustrated right away and there is always a great balance of description and back story to ensure the tale is conveyed in the best possible way. I’m committed to study how he created such a page-turner; the book seems devoid of any sort of “middle-section-lull” that some books tend to have.
Note to self: figure out how to employ this in my own writing.
Synopsis: When no-longer-Little Red Riding Hood is charged with murder she has no recourse but to call on the services of Blackstone & Associates: a legal firm with a rich, dark history hidden deep within Arbor's root structure of Tartarus, not to be employed lightly. But what will Elliot Blackstone, the idealistic rogue assigned to the case, do when he discovers the maiden's identity is a little closer to home that he might have wished?
Aided and abetted by the peculiar staff of Blackstone's, especially its newest addition and fervently ambitious centaur Epona Brenwen, and pursued by a menagerie of distorted fairy tale figures, including assassins Rose Red and Snow White... and seven murderous dwarf-Giants, Elliot Blackstone just might be facing the last case of his life.
A legal thriller set in a Fairy Tale realm Blackstone & Brenwen: The Mirror & The Meretrix promises to transport you back to a place deep within your childhood hearts, where peril lies behind every Precedent and adventure within every adjudication. The term Magic Circle Law Firm has never been so appropriate.
This isn’t a book I would suggest for young kids, but for the older teen to adult fiction crowd, this may well be your book.
So, without further ado, today I am absolutely thrilled to present Andrew Mellusco!
ANDREW: Thank you for reading my book and for setting up this interview. I thought signing my first book was exciting but this, as my first ever interview, is certainly more so.
ME: [Laughs nervously] I must admit, I do feel a bit like Asmodeus Blackstone and Fury when they’re interviewing Epona for the trainee position at the start of the story. Let’s see if we can work through the butterflies together, shall we?
Can you tell a little about yourself…where you’re from? How long you’ve been writing, do you write full-time? What else do you do for a living and what do you like to do besides writing?
ANDREW: A bit about me then; I'm from the UK, born in London, and raised in a city called Lincoln. It was a great place to live, and as my author profile on Amazon says, I grew up watching the jousting at the castle in summer.
I returned to the city of my birth twice when older; the second time when I studied Law at Brunel University (ah ha! the Law). This was my first proper exposure to big city living and a subject I had only previously watched on Ally McBeal or This Life or A Few Good Men (still one of my favourite films). I realized later in the course that I wasn't go to be a Lawyer as the long hours weren't quite my style... so, like so many others I fell into Insurance, and something called professional indemnity; helping companies who make mistakes, predominately looking after, wait for it, Law firms. Believe me, when Lawyers make a mistake they sure make a big one. I worked for AIG for over 3 years and in the market for just under 6 years. London Insurance land is a mystical place indeed, filled with eccentric brokers, curious adjusters, figure obsessed underwriters, not to mention always jovial (when lunching) lawyers with whom I developed extraordinary friendships.
So when I decided to quit and become a travelling English language teacher it came as a shock to most. Yes, I had done with the 9-5 and wanted to do something crazy. I booked myself on a TEFL course, bought a one way ticket to Thailand and the rest is history. I'm now teaching in my 4th country (Spain) and it continues to be a thoroughly rewarding experience.
ME: What’s your favorite food, biggest fear, and your favorite read?
ANDREW: I like strawberry jelly sweets and chilli con carne, but never together. Besides writing, I enjoy reading anything from Murakami to John Connolly (his dark fairy tales are excellent).
ME: Chilli con carne? I had to look that one up; got to say, it looks good!
Is B&B your first novel? What’s the history behind writing this story and the timeline from first draft to finished product?
ANDREW: The Mirror & The Meretrix is my first novel. I wrote and finished the first novel during the final year of my Law degree. It was a pretty hectic time as I was always writing my end of course dissertation at that point (a paper called From Absolutism to Absolution – the symbiotic relationship between law and religion over the past 2000 years), so I didn’t have a lot of time to commit to B&B.
Once the degree ended however and I was working, as I always find I can write when I am at work and have a few hours to kill [grins], I managed to really put the book together.
From first sentence to last words took about 9 months in total so it wasn’t a fast process by any means. Then I spent another year editing and formatting.
As is unfortunately common in the industry I received a few rejections from agents. Instead of being disheartened I decided to go it alone… which means learning all about book formatting, cover dimensions, margins, ISBNs… a lot. And the experience was fantastic. I especially enjoyed commissioning my first piece of art for my cover from a very talented photo artist in Argentina, a place I would subsequently end up teaching!
All in all then, about two years.
ME: This was my first experience reading an ebook (through the Kindle app the iPhone). Can you talk more about your decision to self-publish and what formats your book is available on?
ANDREW: “If you wanted something done…”
I got impatient waiting for that big book deal. So much so that I risked losing sight of why I was writing in the first place; because it mattered to me and I took pleasure from the process. There are websites that can deliver your material to the market without having to spend lots of, or any, money at all. I recommend Smashwords and Amazon’s KDP. They are easy to use and get your book where it needs to be.
The book was originally released as a hard back cover copy with Lulu.com back in 2006, but it was quite expensive to print. So I switched to Amazon subsidiary, Createspace, for the soft cover release. The print version is still available!
ME: I am eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series! Can you share the release date? Will the same characters be returning?
ANDREW: I am especially eager to publish it! It’s scheduled for digital release at the end of this month, with a paperback following shortly after that. And yes, the same characters will be returning, along with some familiar fairy tale faces… hmm should I tell? [grins] Why not. Aladdin, the Little Mermaid, and The Wild Swans will all be appearing also.
ME: I think one of my favorite aspects of this book was how you took classic fairy tales and incorporated them into one story, although you did twist some of them a little… I mean, seriously? Snow White, an assassin? How did you come up with those ideas!?
ANDREW: I knew very early on I wanted to revisit the fairy tales of my youth when writing B&B so I went back to the source material; tales which are often quite dark. I have two beautifully illustrated and annotated volumes on the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson by Maria Tatar (great hard back books). What soon became apparent was that the tales were quite dark indeed – murder, child cruelty, torture, kidnapping, deception all playing a part in sometimes quite disturbing tales. Hollywood has clocked onto this recently, which is good to see, and they seemed to have realized what I did from the stories; that the characters are incredibly strong and fiercely individual.
When I had decided that I didn’t want the females in the book just as decoration I attempted to play around with some genesis ideas… some ‘what ifs?’ almost like alternative fantasy.
And assassins? Well, I thought what could be more frightening than a beautiful killer – something altogether contradictory.
ME: Did you know all the fairy tale stories before writing B&B or did you have to research?
ANDREW: I knew of the ‘big ones’ – Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Rose Red – but some of the others I had to research. For example in the chapter where Elliot tries to find a Wolven costume I include the weaving squires from the Emperor’s new clothes and the tailor from The Brave Little Tailor, both of which I had to research.
Researching fairy tales has got to be the most fun I’ve had researching anything. It really was like going back to my youth.
ME: I’ve never read a courtroom drama before, but all of the legal proceedings seemed very believable. It probably helped that you have a background in law. How did those experiences help you create that realism?
ANDREW: Some of the Jurisprudence elements of my Law course taught me a thing or two about legal proceedings, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to the High Court in London to see the big wig barristers in action when working for Her Majesty’s special prosecutions department, yet I didn’t want to swamp the reader with lots of legal English and Latin phrases.
The law is fun to watch and read because essentially the issues don’t have to be complex. There may be 30 pages of statute concerning one tiny part of a criminal prosecution, but in the end all it may come down to is a piece of evidence or the testimony of a witness or two.
I wanted to humanise (loose usage given the World-Tree inhabitants) the Law and not have it just a black and white set of rules. All that said, actually creating new legal systems and case law and precedents were unbelievably fun. I could create the rules, break the rules, amend them, and the characters had to react to that…take Malaphar’s snub at the end of the Trial by Combat scene; a piece of brand new law did that, not Elliot’s sword.
ME: I loved how you worked each of the four main character’s back story into the bigger picture. Were any of your main characters based on specific fairy tale characters?
ANDREW: I’d say that the characters are based on the people I met when working in London. I met some truly wonderful personalities.
For example, Asmodeus is based on my boss Martin Archer, a man who taught me the ins and outs of Insurance law and legal adjusting and really helped me in honing my skills. We are still good friends and keep in touch… he even came to my wedding. I mean, who invites their ex-boss to their wedding!?
Fury was based on the very independent and incredibly strong female lawyers I worked with. Epona is an amalgamation of some of trainees I used to drink with, and whose trepidations of anticipations I used to enjoy listening to. Elliot is me – the crazy part of me from university, and the disciplined part of me from my work life, well, relatively disciplined. He cares about those around him and will do anything he can for them. I like to think there’s a bit of a hero and heroine in everyone.
ME: Often authors say that their characters are pulled from within themselves. Which of your characters do you think is the most interesting and why? Who was the easiest and who was the hardest to write?
ANDREW: Oooh, that’s a tough one. As I said before, Elliot was definitely pulled from my own personality and experiences and he was the easiest to write, but the most interesting has to be Fury. Usually tempestuous she now finds a reason to temper her aura, her dynamic with Vincent is magical to write and there is a lot more to her than just heating up a room. She’s a successful lawyer who likes oil painting sunsets and who lives in a cottage; trying to get those perhaps paradoxical characteristics to sit well with each other, and thereby create a well-rounded and believable person, was challenging but mighty rewarding.
ME: While I loved all the characters in B&B, Epona was the most interesting to me because one of my own characters is also a centaur. Is there a specific reason you decided to create her as a centaur rather than some other mythical being?
ANDREW: I wanted something truly different for Epona. We’ve seen hooved characters in books before (C.S. Lewis’ Mr. Tumnus), but not many with four legs. What I wanted to get across was that she was really new to the law firm. As welcoming as Blackstone’s is she is still an outsider. Juxtaposing her four les to the bipeds around her truly made her stand out and personified all her worries and anxieties about starting out in a profession she had only just finished studying.
I decided on a Centaur because of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum (my favourite place in all of London). These panels depicted Centaurs fighting men in amazingly dynamic poses. It was that sense of power and motion that I wanted to have in Epona – starkly different from the always tired Sandman but similar to her winged mentor.
Early on in the idea for the book I always wanted Epona galloping in to save the day; her hooves pounding the dirt and her hair caught on the wind… (Sorry, got a bit carried away there.)
ME: All of the different parts of the World Tree are so interesting, but I want to visit Babel! With the rise in popularity of ebooks, does Babel somewhat reflect today’s publishing stage?
ANDREW: I love libraries and especially liked the Law library at my university. It had Law reports from 1840 that smelt oaky and smoky (fantastic).
In retrospect I think perhaps Babel’s constant physical growth does mirror the current publishing world. Digital technology was given back the power of the written word, and its dissemination, back to the people. You don’t need a publisher to have people read your book. Now you can write a book and within 24 hours make it available to millions of e-reading devices… that’s just amazing.
When I first started publishing B&B it never occurred to me to produce a digital copy. I mean, couldn’t people just print it off and send it to their friends and what not? But as the hardware became more desirable and the websites more user friendly, it became a bit of a no-brainer. Here was a market place that was now open to all when before it was only open to those who could fill shelves in bookstores or stock up on Amazon.
Industry watchers say that demand for e-material will outstrip demand in the next half-decade. Perhaps it is like Babel then; constantly evolving as new pieces are written.
ME: Fury and Epona seemed embarrassed that their very first written works were put out there for the world to read – was there a double meaning on this? What does your editing process look like as an indie author? Do you have an editor or trusted friend who’s really good at grammar?
ANDREW: There’s always some trepidation at releasing your work to the world. That and I used to handle criticism badly. So, yes, there is something embarrassing about putting yourself out there for all to scrutinize.
Editing, uhh! Putting the final words in a book is amazing but re-reading the book another 10-20 times to make sure every little mistake is weeded out can be eye-grudgingly tedious. I do have a couple of trusted friends who help me. Their grammar is great. And since teaching English as a foreign language, and having to learn everything about grammar to an advanced level, I think I have improved as a writer.
ME: Okay, I just want to know: Do you plan to write My Life in Fairy Tales, the book that magically appeared in Babel once it was finished?
ANDREW: Good question. It’s still early days. I’m still learning the ropes with social media and Twitter, (something I once vowed I would never use, has become an indispensable marketing tool). I imagine, when things really start heating up – after the third book maybe, and the films are made, and…[sigh] – that, yes, I’ll sit down and write about my own life, in the style of a fairy tale of course.
ME: You knew this one was coming: Why DOES Elliot have a coffin for a desk?
ANDREW: Wow, the question. Well… I’m going to keep that under wraps for now, but it does get a mention in Swansong for a Sibling. There is a very real story behind the coffin-desk but I’m keeping it a secret a bit longer. I know, I’m a tease. I do promise that you’ll be the first with the exclusive when I’m ready to tell the world.
ME: Is there anything else that you’d like to share? Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
ANDREW: Take the plunge and put finger to keypad! Having a finished book with your name on the cover is something that you will always be immeasurably proud of. And don’t be afraid of rejection; embrace it and self-publish. If you believe in your ability strongly enough then your work deserves nothing less than being let loose on the world.
ME: Thank you again, Andrew, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to visit about B&B – take care of you and your writing! I’m looking forward to following Elliot, Epona, Fury, and Vincent in the next adventure!
ANDREW: Thank you, Amanda, for this opportunity to share some of my writer’s life. It’s been very cathartic. If anyone does have any more questions please feel free. And I hope you enjoy my book and my upcoming sequel. [Hugs]
Andrew has graciously provided the revised e-pub, .pdf, and mobi versions of BLACKSTONE & BREWEN – THE MIRROR AND THE MERETRIX to send to anyone who wants to read it before the second one is released later this month. I’ll gladly send it along to anyone who wants a copy; just send me an email, indicating which version you’d most like (the flavors we’ve got are e-pub, .pdf, and mobi versions for Kindle).
And if you have any other questions for Andrew, please leave them in the comment section!
To learn more about BLACKSTONE AND BRENEWEN – THE MIRROR AND THE MERETRIX, visit one of the crazy-coolest bookwebsites I've ever seen. You can also connect with Andrew on Facebook and Twitter.