Today is special as I’m holding my first interview on this blog with Darrell Drake, author of historical fantasy ‘A Star-Reckoner’s Lot’. The book is officially released on 2nd October (Sunday) but it’s available to purchase right now. I will be following this interview with a review of ‘A Star-Reckoner’s Lot’ on Friday 30th September. Let’s start by taking a quick look at the book and then into the interview :).
Book Blurb: For some, loss merely deprives. For others, it consumes.
Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been.
Witness her treacherous journey through Iranian legends and ancient history.
Only a brave few storytellers still relate cautionary glimpses into the life of Ashtadukht, a woman who commanded the might of the constellations—if only just, and often unpredictably. They’ll stir the imagination with tales of her path to retribution. How, fraught with bereavement and a dogged illness, she criss-crossed Sassanian Iran in pursuit of creatures now believed mythical. Then, in hushed tones, what she wrought on that path.
1. Please tell us about A Star-Reckoner’s Lot. What is the book about and what is a Star-Reckoner?
A Star-Reckoner’s Lot follows the life of Ashtadukht: star-reckoner, widow, and adventurer. Her story unfolds through glimpses of her many quests—from battling forty-armed giants to overcoming sorcerous illusions. These quests center mainly on her many tasks as a star-reckoner, a title which charges her with uprooting the monster-like divs inhabiting greater Iran (though her clemency toward these divs earns her no small amount of scorn from her peers). These journeys are but steps in her true path: that of bringing the div who murdered her husband to justice. As readers will come to discover, it’s never as simple as it seems.
Star-reckoners function as a conduit of sorts. Far above, in the celestial sphere, the wicked planets wage a millennia-long war with the life-giving stars. Star-reckoners have learned to find their place in that war, and channel or coax a small portion of that battlefield into feats of magic. It’s not an entirely vague system, though: I have developed the mechanics, and used actual star charts of ancient skies to determine the outcome of each and every lot Ashtadukht draws (drawing a lot is a term for star-reckoning . . . not for scribbling often). That said, star-reckoners have no innate power of their own. They have been rigorously trained in their craft. Any human who can learn, and withstand the torturous training, can become a star-reckoner. Star-reckoners do, however, possess an impressive knowledge of the underpinning of their craft: from star-reckoning itself to the nature of divs to astronomy to generally supernatural affairs. It’s worth noting that Ashtadukht’s star-reckoning is unnaturally unpredictable, which plays a vital role in the story (and yet again earns her the scorn of her peers).
2. The main charcter Ashtadukht has a debilitating illness. What made you decide to add this to her character? How does it impact her story?
I wanted to make Ashtadukht headstrong and capable yet human. And I wanted to show that you could do that with someone who wouldn’t take travel as well as those who are sound of mind and body. Both her mental health and her illness come to play in her journey—often working against her in their ways. But it was important to show that while she sometimes found herself in a bad way, it was always temporary. She is determined in her cause, tenacious.
While I can’t give the full scope of its impact on her story due to spoilers, I will say it challenged her daily. And I hope it impressed upon readers just how prevalent it was in her day to day life—not to mention the more obvious issues it causes her along the way. That it adequately illustrated her strength of will.
3. The setting of the book is Ancient Iran. Is this a time period you’re particularly interested in? What other periods in history interest you?
It should be said that I wasn’t all that interested in it until I started research for the book. But the same goes for other hobbies. Archery, birding, stargazing: all brought on by research for one book or another. Now that I’ve spent years with my nose buried in its annals, I can say the same for ancient Iran. Long after finishing A Star-Reckoner’s Lot, I find myself reading academic papers and picking up the few inexpensive books on the subject (for which Touraj Daryaee should be thanked).
I’m not nearly as versed in other periods or empires, but I can’t deny an interest in ancient and medieval China and Japan. Ancient Greece, Rome, and Central Asia come with the territory of studying ancient Iran. You can’t have one without the other—not if you want the full picture anyway.
4. Did you do a lot of research for this novel?
Oh, boy. I did far more research than writing. Besides taking notes and working on the outline and intricacies of the plot, I spent about two and a half years researching before I wrote a word of the story. In contrast, A Star-Reckoner’s Lot was written from December to May. So about six months give or take. Research included but was not limited to: visiting the university library many times over the course of a year to check out as many books as I could manage, reading the various academic papers, consulting websites like Encyclopaedia Iranica and Avesta.org, viewing the modest collection at the Royal Ontario Museum, studying but not properly learning Pahlavi, and who knows what else. I would have visited Iran if it were in the cards.
5. Do you think you’ll write another novel with the same setting?
I want to, but I honestly don’t know. It all hinges on the success of A Star-Reckoner’s Lot. There is certainly more to be told.
6. A Star-Reckoner’s Lot was funded using Kickstarter. How did this go and is it a method you’d recommend to other indie authors?
I wouldn’t say it went great, but it was nevertheless successful. I ran a Kickstarter in the summer of last year which wasn’t successful—I overestimated the support I could muster. So I addressed that with a more modest goal this time around. More than anything, it was a month of near-constant stress.
I’d only recommend it to other indie authors on three conditions. First, that they have something of an audience and circle of support. Second, that they adequately prepare and polish the Kickstarter without simply throwing it out there. Not only is it less likely to succeed, it doesn’t reflect well on the book, or rest of us for that matter. And lastly, if they don’t mind a month of stress.
7. What made you choose the self-publishing rather than traditional route?
While I recognize (and envy at times) the advantages of traditional publishing, I don’t like the idea of resorting to finding an agent and publisher. There’s nothing appealing to me about supplicating to a select few in hopes of my work ever making it out there—with bleak odds no less. That isn’t to say I haven’t sent my fair share of queries. But it was never something I meant to rely on.
8. How do you spend you free time when you’re not writing?
I’m pretty boring. I like quiet; I like calm. An ideal day would be sleep, sleep, sleep, and whaddya know more sleep. But I pass the time by reading (currently Tower of Swallows), gaming, playing weekly P&P, entertaining my cat, and doing everything I can to promote A Star-Reckoner’s Lot. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk to glimpse the birds that call the harbourfront home.
9. How long have you been writing fiction? Is it something you’ve done since childhood?
Afraid I can’t provide a definitive answer here. I’ve certainly had an interest in fantasy since I was young. And I participated in quite a few endeavors in writing during my teenage years that I’m better off forgetting. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many an author felt similarly. The first book I published, Within Ruin, released in fall of 2011, which I must’ve been working on since 2008 or so—worldbuilding and all.
10. Are you working on anything new right now?
Unfortunately not. I’m dedicated to A Star-Reckoner’s Lot at the moment. Some authors can juggle multiple projects like it’s nothing. I am not one of them. So I’m doing my utmost to get the book out there, to get it noticed, and to get it in the hands of readers. What the future holds is beyond me.
And some fun questions…
11. (I think I know the answer to this one but…) Cats, Dogs, Meerkats, Neither or something else?
I feel threatened! What happens if I don’t answer meerkats? In my defense, I have visited the Toronto Zoo twice. Both visits involved watching the meerkats scurry around in their enclosure. Surely that counts for something?
Kowtowing aside, cats and birds. My life could probably be chronicled in terms of cats—much like the regnal reckoning of the civilizations of yore. There has always been one cat or another in the family, and I’ve always had an affinity for them (the opposite for dogs). I serenade mine regularly, which I’m convinced is integral to a healthy cat-human relationship. Birds are a more recent development. They’re limited to being watched from afar, though—I wouldn’t trust my cat with one. Well, mostly afar. I did have one alight on my hand in Japan. That was something.
12. Being British and a tea drinker I’d love to know: Tea, Coffee, or something else?
Both! I used to drink strictly tea. Nothing hoity-toity: orange pekoe, Earl Grey, and the rare green. Lately, I’ve been drinking more coffee, especially in the mornings. Strictly for the caffeine. When it comes to preference, it’s really up to my mood at this point. I keep both stocked, that’s for sure.
13. If you could live in any novel, which one would you choose?
Well, I suppose that depends on what role I’d have in said novel. I’m not too keen on being a sacrifice. Or a thrall to some mind flayer. Or a peasant. The list goes on. An archmage in any of the Forgotten Realms novels would be nice. Not just power for the sake of power, but because of all the possibilities. Those learned mages harness potent forces to perform feats most people, even people in their setting, couldn’t dream of. At the same time they aren’t burdened with godhood, which I believe lends to a greater appreciation for their accomplishments.
Exploring the galaxy in Saga also sounds like a good time, danger notwithstanding. Otherwise, somewhere I can relax. Maybe with the odd adventure here and there. But comfort and relaxation would be nice.
Thank you so much for your time Darrell :).
Thank you very much for having me, and for your upcoming review! Your questions were wonderfully probing, and gave me the opportunity to discuss some topics I haven’t discussed elsewhere.
About the Author
Darrell Drake has published four books, with A Star-Reckoner’s Lot being the latest. He often finds himself inspired by his research to take on new hobbies. Birdwatching, archery, stargazing, and a heightened interest in history have all become a welcome part of his life thanks to this habit.