Interview: The Blade of Ahtol with Dan Gillis

I am honoured to announce the publication of a new epic fantasy and to present my second interview on this blog.

My last interview, with Malyn Mawby, featured her incredible scrapbooking and blogging journey, 10minutes, for the Art House Projections 2012 Sketchbook Project.

Author Dan Gillis This interview features Dan Gillis, a good friend and member of the Write Group, who yesterday published his first book, Sapling: The Blade of Ahtol.

The Blade of Ahtol is an epic fantasy novel. It follows a band of outcasts who find themselves hounded by evil forces. I will start my post with my review of the book.

Sapling Cover Review of the Blade of Ahtol, Book 1 of the Sapling cycle in the Aerluin Weave saga, by Dan Gillis.

Since Llian wandered and Aerluin was lost, evil has steadily crept across the lands, building itself to conquer all of Aeredia.

The pickpocket, Firah, joined by her burly patron, Tohm, a bartender; Zyr, a monk shrouded in layers of mystery; and Shien, an expelled patriot seeking heirlooms stolen from his family, venture out and soon find themselves thrust together and targets of the spreading evil. They attempt to flee, only to be doggedly pursued by their enemy and even by their allies. When they also become afflicted with madness, possession and magic they cannot control, how can Firah and her companions survive to save Aeredia and Aerluin?

Sapling: The Blade of Ahtol is set in a world of conflicting magic, where demons possess humans, and monsters enslave farmers and villagers. Factions clash in their struggle for control and in all of this is a violent race to find someone to embody the growing evil or the essence of Aerluin. In the midst of this turmoil, Firah is a sensitive; she is attuned to the magic moving through Aeredia, making her a receptacle for good and evil. Her sensitivity makes her trackable and constantly dogged by those who would possess her. In a world where loyalties shift and alliances and adversaries switch, any move, even flight, is dangerous.

I like Gillis’ Blade of Ahtol. Dan pulls us through a complex world using engaging characters, a rich story, a dynamic pace and embedded backstories. Dan’s attention to detail provides a history even to the geology and conflicting magic in his unique world. His clashing cultures develop different perspectives on this history and their often-hostile interactions. The atmosphere is tense, even in the enervating and the tranquil sequences between his fast-paced, yet clear, fight scenes. These calculated fight scenes are meaningful to Dan’s story and his world; they are not contrived conveniences. In similar fashion, Dan manages to expertly embed, rather than insert, informative backstories, and ulterior motives and goals, into his epic tale. This last is refreshing as backstories are often the bane of story flow; here they contribute to the fiction. Dan also sprinkles liberal doses of humour and romantic tension throughout his story as well as interesting cues specifying change in point of view, timing and scene, and visual icons, matched to a calendar explained in an appendix, identifying the date of events in the novel.

I had a few chances to listen to Dan reading portions of this riveting tale and love the way the story reads when he recites it. I think any reader who is interested in fantasy and suspense will love this novel. I highly recommend it.

Check Dan’s novel out. It is a good story.

To mark the occasion of the publication of Dan’s first book, I interviewed him about his novel and writing practice. Here is what he had to say.

SU: First, congratulations, Dan. It is incredible to watch the editing, revision and publication processes in action.

SU: Share some things about yourself. Who are you?

DG: I am a teacher of a most imaginative group of people, that being junior high. They inspire me everyday, to say nothing of general source material for teenage characters. I think of my creative experiences in my young teens [adolescence] and I want to foster that same feeling in the youth today. Its most rewarding with the self-proclaimed non-writers who learn to create amazing tapestries of imagination. Anything creative I have grown to enjoy and participate in; namely painting, sketching, digital media, photography, guitar, drama/theater, martial arts and starting a family. I guess you can say I received a lion’s share of creativity and I have tried not to bury it in the ground.

SU: That is interesting. I also felt most creative when I was a teen and I see it all the kids, from Grade 5 to Grade 12, that I teach. I believe kids are the most creative people in the world.

SU: What were your first stories and poems like? What were they about?

DG: What a range of stories took shape!

In one case a boy is taken by a secret organization and a small micro-computer is implanted in his brain. When he escapes and remembers nothing, he is thrust into chaos as the organization tries desperately to recover their investment. He is most surprised when the computer comes online and assists him in his attempts to escape recapture. I was 15 when I imagined that one.

In another yarn, my sister and I collaborated when I was 18. Beings have come to earth. They are time travellers and are fleeing their world in destruction. The earth story is somewhat dystopian, with an oppressive government that has the earth locked down. The travellers decide to help a young boy and girl with their struggle.

My poetry was lively and comedic. Teenage angst rolled out occasionally, but for the most part it was lighthearted fun. Classic titles include “To Live and Die in LA (Language Arts)” and “Pass the Napkins Please.”

SU: Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?

DG: My father once wrote a poem for each of his children, which was placed in each of our personal journals. I was very young when I received mine. I have treasured that poem for decades which symbolizes a father’s love and creativity. I know my father loved to read and maintained a personal library of his favorite books. Most were academic, but it was clear that poetry and humor were integral to his preferences. My dad has supported me in all my creative and academic pursuits and has never faltered. What more of a treasured friend and mentor could I ask?

SU: How would you describe the Blade of Ahtol to someone who has not read any of your work?

DG: I have found this sort of question a challenge because of the scope of the project. Sapling falls into the genre of epic or high fantasy as just one of many unique and varied stories to be told in Aeredia. The Blade of Ahtol is an introduction to the world and establishes a context for the power that drives the conflict for all the narratives that will follow in the Aerluin Weave.

The fantasy genre is certainly replete with many worlds and characters. While I have endeavoured to create an interesting and unique mechanic to the genre, my joy of writing is in the exploration of the human condition. As such, the Blade of Ahtol is as much a character study of those who struggle against the corruption of power in others as it is in themselves. I have always found this a compelling theme to write about. Firah is very much the catalyst for the reader’s discovery; a character who knows little of the world outside and is caught up in the power games of others. While the narrative is written from various perspectives, the general flow of the novel follows the young girl along her journey. Firah is a character that you can become very attached to – faults and all.

SU: What is your favourite part of the Blade of Ahtol?

DG: Hands down, the part I love to read the most is the interactions between Zyr and Nuril, particularly the encounter during the skirmish of the White Guard and the Blade of Ahtol. This backstory was the most taxing to write as I felt so much for Tehsa and the threads of fate which change her life. As with most writers, I have a vested interest in all my characters and the troubles I create for them. As I indicated earlier, I get attached to the characters and they feel very real to me.

SU: What is your favourite part about writing?

DG: Creating images with words is a rewarding undertaking whether in narrative or poetic form. The more subtle but effective device work is the ultimate challenge. I am always trying to refine this craft and make the writing richer and more efficient.

SU: What is writing to you?

DG: Writing is a form of expression as much as any other medium such as art, drama, martial forms and many others. Each medium offers a special form of communication to the recipient. Out of all the forms of creative expression I love writing for the ability to convey the thoughts, hopes and desires most accurately. Yet, it lacks in perfect description of character and settings without a laborious diversion from the plot. Cinema is a direct contrast of these points, offering perfect visual clarity, but limited to verbal dialogue as far as understanding motivation. In this way, I imagine my writing in many forms at once to understand the full effect. Often I will imagine my sequences in cinematic display. I create maps to get a sense of distance and scope of the world. I draw on my knowledge of martial forms to guide characters into combative sequences. A friend of mine at the time of writing created music specifically suited to each chapter; it was tremendous. So writing is only one sibling in the Creative family and without every member involved it can feel slightly dysfunctional.

SU: Did the writing of the Blade of Ahtol influence your life? How?

DG: This was the first novel I ever tried and it certainly opened my eyes to the reality of published writing. Thankfully, the traditional market is changing with the ever increasing options of self-publishing. I once queried a series of agents with the rough novel and received a healthy dose of reality. I learned then the amount of work and sacrifice that would be required to complete the project. I took the challenge and worked hard with my outstanding editor to produce an amazing piece of work. Now with self-publishing, I can strike off one of the ol’ bucket list of life accomplishments.

SU: What is your creative process like? What happens when you sit down to write?

DG: I find that when I am teaching certain units in Language Arts that it triggers my own creativity. I also have noted that while I am out for long bike rides my brain tends to linger upon my various projects. It feels like peeking into doors. Sometimes inspiration comes rapidly and I must pull over and start entering my ideas into my phone (my memory should not be trusted for when I get back home). The synopsis of ideas generally comes then, the framework if you will, and when I sit down and write the stylistic forms simply come along then. I certainly have felt more creative when I feel my body is healthy.

SU: What advice would you give to a beginning writer? Why that?

DG: Allow for the expansion of ideas. As you reflect upon your plot you will find ways to improve, expand and enhance your text. Don’t rush your revisions, allow time for the creative process to continue. There are wonderful additions that can happen in this critical phase.

Oh, and listen to your editor.

SU: Can you describe something you wrote that was so stimulating that you could not get your mind off of it?

DG: Well, I hope you’ll excuse me for getting sentimental and personal. When the day came to propose to my wonderful and dear companion, I had a feeling of what to do. To propose to her with a poem seemed to encapsulate all of who I was. When I sat down to pen that most sacred and vital verse, I felt like a channel had opened to a source of power an Ashori could only dream of. I felt it flow from me so easily and I almost felt like an observer. There was no construction or revision of any sort. When I think of the marvel of that night and the twenty minutes of sweet joy where my soul and pen were in harmony – I am forever grateful. That was my greatest achievement and not to mention it would be an insult to inspiration.

She said yes.

SU: Congratulations.

SU: Did you have a message in mind when you wrote [the Blade of Ahtol]? What did you want to share from it? What did you want to keep?

DG: I did not have an intended message to convey initially as Sapling began as a creative outlet to explore the cellars and attics of my imagination. Much of university study was literal interpretations – I needed a place to go where I could shape the rules and outcomes of my own creations. How liberating! I know that Sapling is a study of loyalty and personal sacrifice. That theme grew powerfully as I created the story.

SU: Did you get out of this story what you expected and wanted? What did you learn?

DG: I learned that great ideas are only the beginning. There is a whole other craft that goes unmentioned far too often and that is the genius of editing and the art of clarity. Thank you, Shawn for your expertise, keen eye and clever mind.

SU: You are a Language Arts teacher. How do you inspire your students to get the most out of what they explore, create and investigate?

DG: Finding the joy in reading often takes that special spark of entertainment. I love doing readers theater with the students, trying on voices and being animated. I also dive deep into the story with the students and encourage them to try and find books in their genre of interest. We have had much success noticing elements of stories and the writer’s craft. When they create their own stories, I encourage them to expand their writing using their favorite stories as models. This includes all the techniques that lead to interesting ideas. It is certainly rewarding to see struggling readers or writers have the creative ‘aha’ moment.

SU: What are you working on now?

DG: I am revising and editing the second book, Sapling: The Broken Halls, which was written in the same year as the first book [(2004)]. I am halfway through DOVE which was mentioned earlier in the interview [read the full interview]. Another intriguing project that been ongoing is a supernatural thriller called Crossing Over. I don’t think I can be pinned down into any genre, or at least my brain doesn’t seem to think so.

SU: How can readers contact you or learn more about your books? Where can they read some of this story or other pieces of your work?

DG: I have creative works scattered over various places. Readers can go to my dedicated creative works page at Facebook called Ad Infinitum Creations. You can follow me on Twitter @AerluinWeave. Over at Tofield Write Group I have a member page. For a look at my poetry and graphic poetry you can check out Lands of Myth. Some interesting forum writing I did with my good friend Talia (check out her youtube channel) turned out some wonderful machinima in the Guild Wars setting. It is entitled the Fire of the Covenant and encompasses two full series of episodes. Zyr was featured here, and I even snuck in some voice acting. One of my favorite scripts about the afterlife was featured in this series. Some of my graphic novel work is found at my old guild’s hangout page. I am sure you will all love Keryn (also featured in the video series) who happens to be one of my favorite characters. I wouldn’t dare argue that point with her …

Ad Infinitum Creations:

Ashes & Steel / Rebirth (Halftoe)
The Fall of the House Ridow (Dan the Skald)

Fire of the Covenant: (et al)
The link to my forum writing was for video scripts written by my good friend Talia based on our Forum RP.

Graphic Art:
Fire Dream: Fire of the Covenant Spin-off Comics (Great White Norn)

General Art and Storywork:
Ad Infinitum Creations scrapbook (Ad Infinitum Creations)

The link for the actual writing which I write under the Halftoe pen is here:
Private writing palette (Halftoe)

SU: I would like to thank you, Dan, for agreeing to be interviewed. I hope your work inspires others to share their own experiences and stories with the world.

This was an excerpt of my interview with Dan. You can read the complete interview here and buy the Blade of Ahtol at Amazon.

To learn more about the Blade of Ahtol and Dan, visit his blog and his Tofield Write Group member page. You can follow him on Twitter @AerluinWeave.

10minutes by Malyn Mawby

UPDATE: Due to Twitter’s buying and shutting down of Posterous, Malyn’s 10minutes sketchbook blog has been moved to WordPress, The Sketchbook Project 2012 – 10 minutes. Please visit the new site, enjoy Malyn’s sketchbook and sign her guestbook.

I am excited to present my first featured site, 10minutes, created by Malyn Mawby of Sydney, Australia. This post also features my first interview, which I conducted with Malyn about her site.

10minutes is a mini- or finite blog, having approximately twenty entries, but it is the context of these entries that makes it unique. The real work is the sketchbook the blog complements, documents and interplays with.

This sketchbook is the personal artwork and journey of Malyn as she explores her creative and playful side, and “endeavours to become a less frustrated artist”. The stories of Malyn’s sketches and journey are told in her blog.

The following video showcases her sketchbook. I think you will concur from this video that Malyn’s artistry and creativity are spectacular. Her blog showcases this work, Malyn’s thoughts and the meanings her sketches have to her in even more detail and with more love.


I had the honour of interviewing Malyn about her Sketchbook Project and this is what she had to say.

SU: How did it feel to put yourself “out there” for the world to see? Would you do it again?

MM: I was comfortable putting myself out there because I didn’t think it was particularly personal. Besides, I was always upfront that I wasn’t a true-blue artist; on the contrary, I was working on getting better. The blog auto-posted to twitter so I got feedback on both channels. The feedback was worth the putting myself ‘out there’ so-to-speak.

“I would definitely do it again. My youngest daughter (10 y.o.) voiced that she would join me, too. This is quite telling in itself, i.e. the effort I put in was well worth the results in more ways than one. She did clarify that she didn’t have to blog about it. 🙂

SU: Were there any surprises that you encountered during and after your project?

MM: Yes! I didn’t think that many of the entries would be inspired by my Twitter friends, most of whom I haven’t met in real life. Strangely enough, too, the realisation that ‘time is not my cage’ came as a surprise even though I suspected this to be true even before embarking on this project. Obviously, this played in my mind and influenced my choice of theme.

SU: You mentioned in your Prince and Picasso reflection that you realized Picasso’s work, and the work of all people who create things, is an autobiography. How did your sketchbook project capture your autobiography?

MM: It captured the people who moved or inspired me at the time. It hopefully showed the things that inspire me. It even captured an epiphany. That’s pretty awesome for something that only took 2 months.

SU: Okay, I would like to ask you an artist to artist question now. Do you feel that your sketchbook project captured story both in of itself and transcending to your life and the world around you? Did you see this story in your mind before you began each sketch or did it develop as you sketched?

MM: I didn’t expect this project to touch as many lives as it did. I should add that as a surprise, shouldn’t I? I think most artists only have a rough idea to begin with and then let loose, as part of the creative process. I did not know going into the process that Picasso would move me so, or that I was even going to a Picasso exhibition – that was such an impulsive thing we did as a family. I loved the idea of seeing inspiration everywhere and trying to capture a bit of that. I think I even ‘searched’ for inspiration and that’s a good thing!

SU: What advice and recommendations do you have for others – artists, professionals, learners, practitioners – who wish to journal their own journeys of activity?

MM: Inspiration is everywhere. Sometimes they come easily and sometimes we have to search. It’s so human to try to capture a bit of that somehow, through words, pictures, music, whatever. In this sense, we are all artists BUT not all of us make time to unleash the artist within. My advice then is this – time is not your cage – let the artist in you fly!

“And this applies to me as well!!

“This post “On Creativity – How?” is relevant.

SU: What did you want to share with your sketchbook and blog? What did you want to keep? You expressed a conflict about preserving the personal facets of your sketches. Now that you have had time to absorb your sharing of your work, do you feel you betrayed this preservation or ensured it?

MM: Creating the videos and final piece – mail art – helped me let go. Reflecting back, I don’t have many original pieces at home. I often make things to give away. It was a little tougher with this one because, as mentioned, it involved so many people and became quite a personal journey. It is no surprise that I got attached to it as I would to a personal journal.

“Interesting point on feeling betrayed. I think I would feel less true to myself – and thus feel betrayed – if I didn’t submit the sketchbook. Does that make sense? I was always going to let it go. I just didn’t realise it would be as hard as it was.

“In all authentic connections with people, we show a bit of ourselves; authentic connections are personal. I am negotiating the blurry line of what’s really personal and not to be shared BUT that is a different learning journey again. You can get a hint of that in this post, “Of hopes and dreams“.

For more of our interview, please visit my full Malyn Mawby interview document. And please also visit 10minutes. You will be spellbound.


While you are visiting 10minutes, sign Malyn’s guest book and let her know what you think. All comments there, here and on the interview are welcome.

Read my previous posts on Malyn’s Sketchbook Project.

UPDATE: Due to Twitter’s buying and shutting down of Posterous, Malyn’s 10minutes sketchbook blog has been moved to WordPress, The Sketchbook Project 2012 – 10 minutes. Please visit the new site, enjoy Malyn’s sketchbook and sign her guestbook.