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An Interview with Howard Andrew Jones
conducted by Steven H Silver

© Howard Andrew Jones
Howard Andrew Jones
Howard Andrew Jones
When not helping run his small family farm or spending time with his amazing wife and children, Howard Andrew Jones can be found hunched over his laptop or notebook, mumbling about flashing swords and doom-haunted towers. He has worked variously as a TV cameraman, a book editor, a recycling consultant, and a college writing instructor. He was instrumental in the rebirth of interest in Harold Lamb's historical fiction, and has assembled and edited 8 collections of Lamb's work for the University of Nebraska Press. His stories of Dabir and Asim have appeared in a variety of publications over the last ten years.

Howard Andrew Jones Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Desert of Souls

The Desert of Souls
Although there is a long history of literature and fiction dealing with Arabian settings, it doesn't seem particularly popular in fantasy. What special issues did you have setting The Desert of Souls in Iraq and Arabia? Did you feel you had to uneducated your readers of their preconceptions when writing the story?
The most challenging issue was learning the customs of a different time and culture. It seems like I am always finding additional details.

As to those preconceptions, it was my hope that if I portrayed my people as characters rather than caricatures that they would be relatable and human and that anyone who came to the tales with stereotyped ideas would soon see them fall away.

In chapter 5, you have Asim tell a lengthy story of a previous adventure he had with Dabir. It is essentially a narrative of your story "Whispers from the Stone" (Black Gate 12, 2008). Assuming the short story was written first, what was it like to revisit the story and what were some of the differences in the way you approached the tale each time? Why not just create a new adventure for the two men to describe?
"Whispers" is their first real adventure, but this book is the story of how they become loyal comrades afterwards. I chose to use this short story rather than inventing a new one because the one leads into the other, and "Whispers" introduces some points that are further explored later in the book.

Upon revisiting, I was able to address some pacing and description issues that had always troubled me about the story, and it was great fun to comment upon the act of storytelling, which ended up being a connective theme over the novel's course. And I got to include an inside joke for those who had read the original version of the tale in Black Gate.

Many fantasy sequences revolve around partners, most famous, perhaps, being Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, although even Michael Moorcock's loner Elric found himself with a series of partners. Asim and Dabir, however, while partners seem to break the mold in that they are clearly not two halves of the same soul, but individuals who are thrown together and have their own ideas about how things should be done. Was this conscious on your part? Which of the characters did you create first (or were they simultaneous creations)?
Fafhrd and the Mouser may be two halves of the same soul, but they don't always get along. I love the Lankhmar stories, along with the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the original Star Trek. Those were all about characters who loved each other like brothers and stood together to the end, but also weren't afraid to disagree or challenge one another. One of the best Fafhrd and Mouser stories, "Lean Times in Lankhmar" is all about what happened when the two heroes had a falling out. It is clear with all of these characters that they are stronger together than apart, and I definitely worked to show this with Dabir and Asim. Once they learn to trust each other and work together in this book, they are greater than the sum of their parts.

I guess Asim came first, but only by a few seconds, because as soon as I could hear his voice, I knew he was talking about the adventures he had with his scholarly friend.

How did the book change as you were working on it? Were you surprised by some of the things? Was it different from the way you envisioned it?
The poet Hamil didn't originally have a very important role, but he kept inserting himself into the story; I was surprised by how fond I grew of a character that had originally been intended for one scene. Part of the joy of writing is discovering those surprises, and finding your way around the unexpected challenges. I have to say that what Dabir and Asim found in The Desert of Souls changed from the original conception, but I don't want to give anything away. The rest of the book ended up pretty much as I had envisioned, and, thanks to some suggestions from my talented editor, wife, and reading circle, a little stronger.

What do you think the attraction of writing in a fantastic setting is?
I'm (obviously) living in the real, modern world with its challenges and complexities and I frankly am not that interested in writing about it in my spare time, or about awful people in ordinary situations... but then I'm not really interested in writing about awful people in any case. I'm far more fascinated with our better natures. I think the fantastic allows a writer to better highlight aspects of human behavior and society, exaggerated or removed by being placed in settings other than those to which we are accustomed. I like to think when done well that the issues can be "truer." But then I also like to have a good time when I write, and I have always been drawn to other epochs and distant lands. If I'm not having fun writing it, I'm pretty sure no one will have a good time reading it.

In your afterword, you mention a few role-playing gaming supplements, and you've mentioned elsewhere Gary Gygax's Appendix N. How do Role-Playing Games tie into your writing (and editing career)?
I've been a gamer since grade school, and I think it was instrumental in my becoming a storyteller. Sometimes I try out story ideas on game nights to see how well they'll work, or have to develop spur of the moment ideas during a game that end up being used in a tale. Game mastering has been a huge benefit to me, and a joy.

As to my editing, I suppose it was me writing a game review for Black Gate that really got me involved with the magazine. One review led to more, and more, and eventually I was a permanent fixture. It was my reviewing game products that introduced me to the Paizo team and led to an offer to submit a proposal for their Pathfinder novel line, and that led to Plague of Shadows, a game novel set in the Paizo campaign world of Golarion.

You've edited a multi-volume collection of the writings of Harold Lamb, a mostly forgotten author. How did you first learn about him and what do you think he has to say to the modern reader? What were some of the tribulations and triumphs of compiling these collections?
I found him in high school while writing a history paper on Hannibal of Carthage, and I loved Lamb's biography so much that I tried out his collection of swashbuckling Cossack adventures, The Curved Saber, and realized that I'd found something extraordinary. I eventually learned that there were many other Lamb tales that were just as fine that had never been collected, and through trial and error and perseverance found a way to get them into print. A little of this had to do with me accidentally ending up as a professional technical book editor, and therefore knowing how to write proposals and talk to other editors, and a lot of it had to do with Bison Books (U. of Nebraska Press) being willing to take a chance on me and Lamb. A whole lot of it had to do with Lamb's great talent.

Lamb was a helluva fine adventure writer. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he can still be read for pure enjoyment. His pacing was cinematic, his characters rich and non-stereotypical, his plots surprising. In a time when many writers churned out formula plots and wrote only of heroic white men facing down savages from other cultures, Lamb regularly featured folk from other lands as central characters. To my mind it was criminal that so fine an adventure writer was so forgotten. As writers we can still learn from his techniques, and as readers we can still thrill to his tales.

Is there a typical "writer's day" for you? If so, how does it go? What are some of the traditions or exercises you have while writing? If you listen to music, what sort of music do you listen to while writing?
On a day when I'm working on a rough draft, I prefer to get up early before the family and get in at least 500 words so that I have some progress under my belt before the work day starts. By the time the kids get home from school I try to have at least 2K. I need huge chunks of unbroken time to crank out the rough draft. If I'm revising, though, it's much easier for me to drop into the piece any time that I have more than a few moments, and those days aren't as highly structured. Before I begin writing or revising, I try to remember to center myself in the creative space a little, sometimes by just taking a few deep breaths, sometimes by reading a favorite poem. I never listen to music, because I end up becoming distracted by it. I played piano and guitar for so many years, dabbling with composing and studying music theory, that I think part of my brain is always ready to break a good song apart to see why it works, or to take a bad song and make it better.

Copyright © 2011 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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