Back with a brand new interview to kick off the weekend, this time with John Pepe and his amazing cover/debut novel, The Lone Wolf. We tune in with him in the Scar’s Den to hear his thoughts on writing and life.
STARTING OFF WITH A BANG
Introduce yourself! An easy question to start off with. Who are you, what do you write?
My Name is John D. Pepe and I’m the author of The Lone Wolf. I write epic and high fantasy.
Is this your first time in SPFBO?
This is my first book! So, yes. And I finished it just under the wire to get it in by the deadline for SPFBO #6.
What book did you enter into this year’s event?
The Lone Wolf (it’s all I got)
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
Yes. Caladin. He’s a blast to write. For whatever reason his personality just popped off the pages and his dialogue flowed easily. Also, he has been my friend’s character in our D&D adventures for years (along with mine, his cousin, Quinn).
What was the inspiration for the story? What are your future project(s)?
I play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, so this story comes straight from an adventure I created for the characters. I wrote a story around the skeleton of that adventure, drawing from actual things that happened, and dove deeper into the characters to give them more life than we have in the game. I then created my own world (Orn) and plopped them into it. But I siphon inspiration from all over. Movies, books, TV shows, religion, philosophy, and of course…D&D. I try to draw from many sources. But the main plot came from that adventure.
The next books I am writing are also based on an epic adventure my friends and I played over several years. It is called The Six-The Saga of Vykosch, and it will probably be a trilogy. Of course, I thought The Lone Wolf would only be about 120k pages and it ended up being 142k before edits, so we will see. I also plan on doing two books about my main character, Remence, and two books with my gentlemen procurers, Caladin and Quinn. But I really want to write The Six because the characters there will tie in with the books about Remence and Caladin. Also, in The Lone Wolf I didn’t do tons of world building and in preparation (or as I’m going) I am doing a lot more world building with The Six; and I’m really enjoying it. I need to get my head wrapped around my world, the magic system, the backgrounds of the races, and how they interact and fit together, that way, hopefully, I can guide my readers better.
What are the key themes and/or messages in the book?
One of the major themes I talk about is faith. If someone is at all religious or believes in a higher, all powerful positive/good being who allows evil things to happen in the world, or to them personally, how do you maintain your faith in that being. I’ve struggled with that. One guy I listen too once talked about pockets of agnosticism. When it comes to faith in God, seeing things that are wrong in the world and that sometimes evil wins, it becomes, at times, difficult to maintain one’s belief in a higher power. Another theme I discuss is how one views race, especially if they have had a bad experience with someone of another race. I come from the standpoint in the book that just because someone looks like you doesn’t mean they are good like you or just because they look different doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad. It is what is in a person’s heart and soul that matters. Who that person is as an individual is much more important than what their veneer bespeaks. I use my main character, Remence, to explore those themes within the fantasy setting. Also, I touch on the sacrifices we make in friendships and being young and having to figure out our place in the world.
What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
Laziness-LOL. I have many things I’m interested in and those interests, along with my day job, tend to pull me away from writing. Also, I don’t have a background in creative writing. In fact, when I joined my local writing group, who ML Spencer is a part of (that is the only reason I even know about the Indie industry), she had mentioned at one of my first meeings that I needed a dialogue tag. I had no clue what a dialogue tag was. So, my learning curve has been steep. My editor had to walk me through how to accept/delete edits in word, how to get the link to my book, and how to use Amazon. I mean I’m way behind the eight ball. But I’m learning.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
Yes. As I mentioned above, I want to write two books about Remence and two about my thieves, Caladin and Quinn. The books on Remence will delve into his Ranger training and explore his latent special abilities. I plan on revealing from who or where those abilities manifest and show his progression in learning about and controlling them. Also, there will be a reemergence of the orcs as a cohesive horde again, which he will be tasked with dealing with. As for my rogues, the first book will find them being hired by noble men to help prevent some key coast towns from being overrun by evildoers (known as the Boars) who are in league with the villains in my trilogy, The Six. The first book will lead them to Lundenburn, the largest port city in my world, Orn, and we will pick up with them there in the second book. They get involved with the powers that run that city, open a brothel, and take over a thieves’ guild. It will lead to some fun, but dangerous mishaps for Caladin and Quinn and their new companions.
MORE RAMBLES ABOUT WRITING
What is your favorite book you’ve written?
Right now…The Lone Wolf by far…it is my only book.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are so many good authors out there. Especially since I have been introduced to the Indie world and have been reading a lot of their books. Well, Terry Brooks and his Sword and Elfstones of Shannara really set in motion my reading of fantasy; actually, of any books (I never read anything until I pick those up, which was around 9th grade). But I think R.A. Salvatore is probably my favorite. At least his early works. Once I picked up The Dark Elf Trilogy in college I was hooked as a fantasy reader. I have read almost everything he has written. I really was enraptured by the Dark Elf series and it is one of few sets of books that I have read a second time. In fact, Salvatore makes up half of the books that I have re-read. Only one of Tom Clancy’s books, Without Remorse and Lawrence Watt-Evans’ The Misenchanted Sword and With a Single Spell along with Brooks’ The Sword and Elfstones have I read twice. The other six books belong to Salvatore. With four more of his on my TBR x2 list.
What makes a good villain?
I think a good villain is competent. They must challenge the protagonist in some way, otherwise what does it matter. Whether it be intellectually (Sherlock Holmes vs. Moriarty) or sword play (Drizzt Do’Urden vs. Artemis Entreri), you need that comparable level of skill. I also like a villain who isn’t altogether evil. I like a complicated villain. Thanos is good example. He wanted to bring stability to the universe to prevent over population and the dwindling of natural resources. And he was correct, to a certain extent. Gamora’s plant thrived once he killed off half the population. It was no longer on the brink of starvation. Thanos wasn’t evil for the sake of being evil (which isn’t always a bad thing in villains). He had a purpose. A reason beyond power and glory. He was more complex, and I think that makes for a good bad guy.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
I don’t. I’ve never used them.
Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shoutout to?
Shoutouts: To my buddy Gary Avants who writes Sci-Fi/Time Travel. His series is Chronolocity. The first book, which will be out soon is Chronolocity-A Fist Full of Chronotons. To my friend since grad school, Darbie Andrews who wrote a book called Him? which is a coming of age story of a young Latina girl. It is not my genre, but I finished it in three days because it was so good! To Leila Kirkconnell who has written three books-Shattered, Missing, and Fatal Family Affair which are all sort of that murder mystery type book. To Angie Martin, my editor, who has written eight to ten horror/thriller books and currently has a story out in Blood in the Mirror (and is an amazing editor by the way: bythehandediting), and to none other than the queen of grimdark (lol), ML Spencer, author of the Rhenwars Saga and The Chaos Cycle.
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
A lot. Like I said I don’t have a background in creative writing; I never even took a class so, when I started in my writers group about 80% of the way through The Lone Wolf I was way behind the eight ball. I didn’t know what a dialogue tag was, what writing Maid and Butler meant, not to info dumping, Show vs Tell. Hell, I had never even heard of Indie Publishing. I still have a ton to learn in terms of becoming a better writer but I think I have picked up a lot of knowledge since the time I started in the writers group until I finished the book (which was about 18 months). One of the biggest issues I’m try to tackle (and not enjoying it that much) is how to market. When people say, “writing the book is the easy part”, they ain’t lying sister. Writing the book is the fun part, everything after is the real headache.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
Panster/gardener for sure. I mean I do a little plotting and architecture, but it is for the sole purpose of providing me a little guidance when I feel stumped in part of the story. I write a very basic outline with a few details attached just for reference when needed. Otherwise, I just sit down with pen and paper and let my characters go where they may. I think my characters push the story along for me. They let me know, sometimes at the spur of the moment, what path they are going to choose. Then they just start walking down that path.
If you had to give up both snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
I love them both, but I couldn’t give up snacks and drinks (especially coffee). In fact, during parts of my writing process I have to hit the off button on my music, otherwise I will be banging away on the table, like it is my drum set, instead of writing.
Which is your favourite season to write in, and why?
I live in Southern California so there isn’t these huge differences in seasons. But I think I really like Spring and Fall. When I write I love to sit outside, drink coffee, smoke my pipe, and listen to Lawrence Welk (I sound like a seventy-five year old man)-just kidding about the Lawrence Welk (80s music is my preferred choice…wait, does that still make me seem like an old man?). Spring and Fall lend themselves best to being outside, so they would be my favorite times. Summer is way too hot for sure, so it is my least favorite.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
My buddies and I have been playing most of the characters I write in a D&D setting for at least a couple decades, if not three. My friends and I have developed a little bit of a personality for each character (sometimes more than others). I then take that and try and get into their head. How do they think, what are their believes, what are the mores that affects that character, etc. and I come up with a background for them. Then I just write. I use the relationships that they have developed with the other characters and build on their personalities and motives from there, which in turn provides me with dialogue and helps guide the story.
What is your writing process? Do you have one? What is your workspace like?
I start with pen and paper. I’m old school. I just sit down, think about what I want to happen in the chapter, then write. When I’ve written 15-20 pages, I put it down, and let it marinate for a couple of days. Then I hop on the computer and write it out again, making adjustments. Then I let it sit for a week or more, maybe print it out and take that to my writers’ group, absorb what my group says and rewrite it. Then I let it sit (while writing more of the book) and come back to it in 3-4 weeks and try and clean it up, deleting what doesn’t work and adding what it seems to lack.
When I write I prefer to write in my backyard in the late afternoon and almost all my computer work is done in my office late at night (sometimes late afternoon outside). I think better in the afternoon and night. I’m more of a night owl as opposed to an early bird. My wife and son go to bed earlier, so it gives me time alone when I’m working at 9, 10, 11 p.m. at night. Also, I love nature and my backyard has squirrels and birds and trees. I really feel more connected out there and it helps with the writing process.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from everywhere. Other authors, books, movies, TV shows, art, music, travel, martial arts, philosophy, religion, history, politics, people I come across in life. There are so many mediums that inspire me. In fact, in my new book there is a scene I wrote where my paladin characters are riding their horses in a very mild snowstorm. That scene was inspired by an experience I had at age 13 or 14. My dad and I were driving up in the local mountains on our way to snow ski and I just thought that having a moment with mounted knights riding their horses through the snow in full plate would be super kool. So, thirty plus years later, I decided I would put it in a book.
How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?
I have a few. Probably one that I’m really looking forward to writing is with my gentlemen procurers, Caladin and Quinn, in the second book about them when they reach the largest, and richest, port city in my world. Cities are really where my rogues thrive. I can’t wait to follow them through their escapades in pushing their way to the top of a prominent thieves’ guild there, setting up a brothel, and finding a means of balancing their criminal activities with the being charged by the powers that be to eradicate certain base elements. I love to write Caladin and putting him in a big city and watching him run through his machinations should be fun.
Do you have any new series planned?
Yes. The scene with the paladins in full plate riding through the snow on their horses is the start of chapter 2. It comes from my trilogy, The Six-The Saga of Vykosch. It’s not fully fleshed out but in essence it is about Vykosch, the first lich, who convinces The Dark Butterfly, a Drow goddess, to join him in his cause to destroy The Six. The Drow goddess has be slighted by our heroes and she wants retribution for the past transgression, while Vykosch needs something from one of their members in order to escape the Purgatory he is trapped in and gain a foothold in Orn again. The Six (which are a handful of heroes that could stop them) are pulled out of retirement and it takes off from there.
MORE ABOUT YOU
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I play the drums (at times), travel, read, podcast and blog, play D&D, manage my son’s club soccer team, workout, train in martial arts…and…write.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Trust fund baby or Hollywood actor.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
No brainer…coffee. Everyday. All day.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
Anywhere? Asgard. Before Ragnarok.
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Wow. Uhm…Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds version). He’s hilarious and great in a fight if need be. Thor (Chris Hemsworth version) He’s funny as well, can fly, and great in a fight. Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) Again funny and great in a fight. I seem to like characters who have a sense of humor and can brawl? We would do a World Tour. Starting in California we would flying to New Zealand and moving up through Australia and the rest of island countries north until we got up into mainland Asia. Then travel over to Euro-Asia, the Middle East, Africa, then back into Eastern Europe and Russia. Then to Western Europe and the Scandinavian countries. We would float on over to Greenland, then Canada, and head on down to the Eastern US. We would roll on through the Mid-west and down to Texas to head to Mexico and then Central and South America with our end of the tour in Antarctica before we fly back to Cali.
What superpower would you most like?
I want to be like Dr. Xavier (Professor X): a telepath. There are so many kool powers out there but being able to read and control minds is probably the best. If I can control Superman, who can stop me? Not that I would do anything nefarious or anything.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)
That’s tough. I’ve seen some badass covers, both Indie and Trad. Man…uhm…For some reason, and there are better covers out there these days in terms of art, but I have to go with both The Sword and Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. They were the first books I read, and the covers still evoke a certain magic in my heart when I look at them (Look. There they are. Still sitting on my bookshelf over there, after all these years).
If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?
I’m assuming alive or dead. It would be my mom. I lost her when I was 16. I would make her spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Don’t know why? Maybe I’m getting hungry and that sounds good. If we are only talking about alive…Ryan Reynolds…who wants some chimichangas?
Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.
I’m heavy into the martial arts. I’ve been training for over 35 years (in fact I trained this morning). I’ve had 6 amateur full-contact boxing and kickboxing matches and I have earned two black belts (TKD and BJJ), and plan on get my third in Kung-Fu as soon as we get through COVID. (suck it COVID!)
It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and pandemic comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?
I want to go to a restaurant, have a nice sit-down dinner, and a wonderful alcoholic beverage with friends.
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
People can get a little look at who I am on my website: johndpepeauthor.com. They can contact me through there or my author email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
They can find The Lone Wolf on my website above: just click on the picture of the book or at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B089595GBS