The following is an interview with epic fantasy author Michael Thom. In this interview, Fanbase Press President Bryant Dillon chats with Thom about the inspiration behind his book, The Vanguards of Scion, his passion for Dungeons & Dragons, and more!
Bryant Dillon, Fanbase Press President: Can you tell us a little about your background and how it led to you becoming an author?
Michael Thom: Well, it’s a long story, I’ll try to sum it up as briefly as I can. If I could pick a specific moment when I first remember the thought of wanting to create stories, it was the day after I saw The Empire Strikes Back in the theater in 1980. I had just turned eight and was already completely living and breathing Star Wars culture like most kids those days. I knew that George Lucas was the writer/creator of this thing that had profoundly taken over my life and had sparked my imagination. I thought. Someday I want to do for people what he had for me with Star Wars. I started making up stories for my friends to pretending we were in the Star Wars universe. I made up stories by myself with my Star Wars figures that were like fan fiction before I knew had ever the term.
Later, when I was about ten or eleven, I discovered tabletop RPG games, most notably Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I had to have all the rulebooks before my friends and I wanted to be the DM most often, and my friends always wanted me to continue because I liked worldbuilding. Also, I was an artist so I created all the cool maps and drawings to help my players visualize the worlds I was creating for them to immerse themselves in.
It wasn’t too long into my teen years that many of my players had suggested I write fantasy novels or make my game worlds into books. About the same time, I had discovered Stephen King and the Dragonlance novels. I started devouring fantasy and horror novels. My best friend at the time, Shone Doville, really encouraged me to read fantasy and introduced me to all the big fantasy series of the time. Then I started writing my first go at a fantasy series which became a trunk novel, but I learned a lot writing it and I became infatuated with writing. I took creative writing courses at the local college and read many how to write books and submitted many short stories to small literary magazines. I wrote about thirty short stories, mostly horror and science fiction, but only two of them were published. I got many rejection slips, but eventually some of them had little handwritten notes on them, and that was very encouraging to me.
Eventually life happened and I got married had a kid and writing wasn’t easy to get back to anymore. I dabbled and wrote a little every few years, but I didn’t get back into it seriously until about three years ago. Rachael (my wife now), my grown daughter Vanessa, my best friend Jarrod King, and Carrie Chi Lough (the beta reader who has been there since near the beginning), have been great cheerleaders for me in helping to finish this book. Their help has been invaluable and I can’t state that enough.
BD: For those who are unfamiliar with the title, what can tell us about the plot of your epic fantasy novel, The Vanguards of Scion?
MT: It has several plot threads, but the meat of the overall story is about a sort of mad scientist magician type character who has become so powerful that he was able to create a small pocket of a world at the cusp of many worlds called Scion, much like a hub at the center of a wagon wheel. There he can pull things from other worlds and build a sort of encyclopedia of knowledge and secret magics from other dimensions. He runs into a problem. His world starts to crumble and wither away, so he decides he must find a new place to reside for all his conquests and discoveries. He chooses the East Realm and picks people to give powers to so that they may prepare the East Realm for him to conquer and usher in his people.
BD: You describe the book as “a violent tale of five eccentric characters from different parts of The East Realm.” What type of readers do you think might enjoy this subject matter?
MT: People who like Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, Star Wars and Quentin Tarantino movies. Horror movies and Stephen King.
BD: Do you mind telling our readers more about the world and main characters in The Vanguards of Scion?
MT: The East Realm is just one continent in the Known Lands, but it’s where this book takes place. It sits mostly below the equator of the planet so its northern region is desert and far south is icy. The desert in the north is ruled by the Belaz Empire, an exotic dark-skinned people who worship celestial bodies and the cosmos. The reason for this is because the capital Belaz City sits at the center of an ancient crater created by what they believed was a star that fell from the sky.
The mid-south region is broken up into kingdoms where many light skinned races war often with one another and fight for dominance.
Four of the viewpoint characters are approached by the King of Scion and offered powerful magic in exchange for servitude to him.
The main characters are:
Ivanos- an old mercenary who was once a knight but failed his king and now seeks to redeem his honor. He is the first to be visited by the King of Scion.
Emmanora- a petite ‘milg’ assassin girl. ‘Milg’ are very short, slender humans with red wiry hair and freckles. Their entire race and culture is based on my wife’s Cajun upbringing in Louisiana. The milg actually live in tree houses in a bayou and catch crawfish. I pulled many things from Cajun culture into Emmanora’s story.
Vendronia- a witch with scarlet red skin who is a sort of shaman type character for the trogs. The trogs are somewhere between giants and Scandinavians. Their average height is eight feet tall. The trogs are a very violent society similar to Vikings. A significant part of Vendronia’s story is immersed in trog raids and their culture is explored extensively. She is orphaned with them and struggles to be accepted within a society where everyone is bigger and stronger than her.
Kazimir- A Belazonian alchemist who has struggled with his practice in the Hall of Alchemy in Belaz City. He is the scholarly hero of the story who seeks knowledge and has a insatiable curiosity which gets him in trouble more often than not. He also puts on shows with an acting troupe made up of his alchemist apprentices and fellow faculty at the Hall of Alchemy.
Aeile- a huntress who seeks to find a cure for her sister who has a life-threatening illness. She is on a mission to find the white mariheema flower which is said to be the only thing that will cure her sister. In her search, she is attacked by bandits and then is found by a dark mage with a proposition.
BD: What’s one thing about The Vanguards of Scion that you think might surprise our readers to know?
MT: Four of the main viewpoint characters are based on player characters of a 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons game I ran for two years with friends and family. Emmanora is my wife’s character and she’s based on her personality. Vendronia is my daughter’s character and is heavily based on her. Kazimir is my friend Jarrod’s character and Aeile is my friend Mikki’s character.
BD: How would you describe your writing process when it comes to tackling novels, especially something in the epic fantasy genre?
MT: I love these kinds of questions, because they are the kind I looked for in interviews of my favorite authors growing up. I approach writing novels in a similar process to what I used building characters and worlds for my D&D games. Since I feel I’m a character focused author, I start making character profiles for my viewpoint characters, and then I usually draw a world map early on so I don’t get lost. Just drawing a map inspires me to ask lots of questions like, “What type of environment might be on the northern coast and why?” , “How does this influence the cultures that settled here and their society overall?” Questions like that I try to answer early on and that sparks many ideas for stories within the world.
When it comes to the actual writing, I would say I’m more of a gardener like George RR Martin who only knows the outcome of what is going to happen a chapter or two ahead. I have a vague idea of how it might end, but I’m also not afraid to change the ending completely midway through the book. I like to see where the characters take the story and follow their behavior rather than force them into my plot.
I write on average 1500-2000 words on a good day. Recently, during the quarantine, I’ve started getting up at 8am, eating breakfast and trying to write until around 1pm every day. It’s what Stephen King has often said works best for him, and I’m starting to think it works for me because, after having been rested, my brain has much more energy to use on creative thinking than trying to write later in the evening. It seems to be turning out more words than before when I was more of a night owl.
BD: What do you enjoy most about writing for the epic fantasy genre?
MT: I love that it is difficult. You have to come up with entire worlds, cities, cultures, races and religions. I love throwing things into the mix that are unconventional twists on environmental settings and biology. I also love writing historical fantasy set before technology because it feels more intimate to me to get right up in someone’s face with a sword or a knife, and I used to go camping and hiking a lot in my younger years. I enjoy writing in natural settings like forests, caves and mountains. Epic fantasy has all of that. I’ve written a cyberpunk novel that may see the light of day eventually when I finish it, but my passion lies mostly in historical epic fantasy. It’s been that way for many years, and I don’t see me straying away from it.
BD: Has your writing style been influenced by any other specific creators?
MT: Most definitely. Ironically, though I see myself as a fantasy author, my favorite author and biggest influence is Stephen King. I’ve read most of his books, more than any other author, and I think what you read the most has a big impact on how you develop your writing voice. I’ve been told several times my voice is similar to his, but I don’t know if it is or not personally, because authors tend to be too close to their own work to see it clearly for what it is.
Star Wars is also a big influence, along with Quentin Tarantino films, George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Raymond E. Feist’s Rift War Saga and the classic western films are a big influence, like Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood and Big Jake with John Wayne. Also, I have to mention Breaking Bad. I find myself looking to create the kind of suspense we get in those kinds of films. I’m big on suspense. I love building suspense and letting it simmer until it snaps.
BD: You’re also a fantasy illustrator who has worked professionally as both a graphic designer and a tattoo artist. What have these experiences been like and how they, if at all, tie into your work on The Vanguards of Scion?
MT: Most of my time spent as an illustrator was in pursuit of doing covers for epic fantasy novels, so that I might get acquainted with how to create a good one and do my own. I’ve done work for several small gaming companies, most recently Shadowrun owned by Catalyst Games. I also played in a metal band for many years and got a job at a t-shirt printing shop to help the band get shirts made that eventually turned into a graphic designer job when one of the artists that worked there left and they knew I had been learning to use the design software at home for band flyers. This helped me tremendously in learning to design book covers. Later, I went to a local tattoo school and got my license and started tattooing so I could afford to work four days a week and have extra time to write because I found I could make more money tattooing for less time than my graphic design job.
I want to add that I also spent about twenty-two years waiting tables and bartending at various corporate restaurant chains. The social environment was very crucial in my opinion to me learning how to develop characters. Observing a diversity of people and behaviors really makes for great inspiration. Some of my regulars and co-workers ended up as a template for characters in my book.
BD: As part of Fanbase Press’ 10th anniversary, we’re taking part in a company wide initiative called Stories Matter which focuses on how universal communication through stories allows all of us to examine the essentials of human existence, to understand ourselves better and to grow and/or heal, to pass on importance values, knowledge, and lessons to the next generation, and to connect with one another through empathy and compassion.
So, with that in mind, I pose to each of you, why do you believe stories matter and how do those beliefs connect with your work on The Vanguards of Scion?
MT: Stories matter more than most people realize. Almost everything we know as a human being is connected to a story we were told or read. Stories are so important I think that they matter more to people than concrete facts, which is not the best thing, but its true. Humans are emotional beings. We thrive on our emotions and the stories we collect or develop in our heads about the people close to us are the biggest influence on our beliefs and feelings about them. This is why it’s so hard to change someone’s mind about how they feel about someone because the story in their head they carry around is what makes them feel good about who they are themselves. If you want to change someone’s mind about something or someone, tell them a story that moves them to such an emotional level they feel differently about life. For good or for bad, preachers and cult leaders do it all the time (mostly for bad in my opinion).
I try to make people feel something genuine and moving in my book and hope that they feel the characters are people they’ve known or could know in real life. If I have done that, then I feel successful as an author no matter how many books are sold.
BD: At Fanbase Press, we’re always interested in what our fellow creators are fans of themselves. It doesn’t have to be necessarily geeky or fantasy-related, but what are you currently a fan of? What have you recently enjoyed that you’d want to share with our readers?
MT: Stephen King, The Beatles, Slayer, Metallica, Star Wars (all of them), and Game of Thrones (both the books and the show) are most certainly at the top of that list.
Recently, I’d say Brian Lee Durfee’s first book The Forgetting Moon. It’s been a while since I found an epic fantasy series I like as much as his debut. The second book is said to be even better which I just started. I’m also reading The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon and Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie. I have a bad habit of reading too many books simultaneously. It’s hard to break because I love everything I’m reading equally and can’t keep myself from reading a few more chapter in each.
I love The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson and have reserved a signed copy of Rhythm of War from England.
I’m an avid vinyl record collector. I have all The Beatles catalogue on vinyl and most of my favorite band’s albums.
I’m constantly on the lookout for quality fantasy films to enjoy, but most fall short of my hopes for them. Game of Thrones is my favorite, but Vikings was really good, and I think the Lord of the Rings films were masterfully done.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention before we wrap up?
MT: I’m about two chapters away from finishing The Vanguards of Scion part 2: The Dragonmaker and it will be out in June, hopefully. Parts 1 and 2 are actually intended to be Book 1 of the series, which is called The Flow of Blood and Fealty. I released it in two parts, much like some of the British versions of books have done with Stormlight Archive for marketing reasons, but I plan to release them both in one volume sometime later this year. The series should be seven books total, but we will see where it goes. It’s a bit early to say.
BD: And, finally, where can our readers find you and The Vanguards of Scion online?
My books are exclusive to amazon at the moment in ebook, Kindle unlimited, and printed copies. (CLICK HERE)