So, Robert, welcome to Vaguely Circular! Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me aboard! I am a part-time writer, full-time portable storage unit delivery man, and a massive fan of peace, quiet, and beautiful scenery. I sometimes venture off to dangerous parts of the world in search of an elusive animal that matches the description of a living dinosaur, but my favorite thing is generally to stay at home and engage in the finer points of reading, writing, or generally relaxing.
Cool. So what was the catalyst for starting your writing career?
I don’t know that I would call it a “writing career.” I don’t have the discipline to be a professional writer. I just have a story or two to tell, and it so happens that one of them is a rather big one. The germs for what eventually became The Wells of the Worlds came roughly in 1994. At that time, I was in college, and was writing back and forth with my cousin, Jeff. We had toyed with the idea of a fantasy story that was more or less a hodgepodge of all the various movies and books we had enjoyed but thought were a little lacking (a common complaint with us: sometimes the concept is better than the execution, and vice-versa). It was originally to be one book, but as the scope grew, we realized it would not be told in one volume. Unfortunately, my cousin died before the book was finished, but I decided to complete the novel and dedicate it to him. The process took almost eighteen years, but that’s another story.
Two years … has it really been that long? That’s a bit shameful. I had actually intended to have the sequel, Worlds Beyond the Well, out by now, but as Lennon sagely pointed out, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. I am working diligently on the sequel, guys! Don’t give up on me!
Bid the Gods Arise is the tale of two cousins kidnapped and sold into slavery on an alien planet. The notion of making the protagonists cousins was an intentional homage to the relationship I enjoyed with my own cousin, but the characters are very much their own. The story is set in a world that should feel familiar but fresh, as the novel is a sort of mélange of genres. I drew on a number of influences and synthesized them into a single mythopoeia. This wasn’t so much conscious as the way my mind tends to work; I don’t lump things into neat categories the way most people do. So you will see a great deal of epic fantasy influence, some supernatural, and a hint of science fiction. There are also Christian themes, but hopefully not to the point of being overt or preachy. Rather, they are the warp and weft of the story proper. As Tolkien said of The Lord of the Rings, BTGA is “a fundamentally religious … work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” But whereas Tolkien extracted all overt references to religion or faith in his work, I brought mine to the forefront. I remember reading somewhere that religion is such a major part of people’s lives that it is an often-overlooked subject in fantasy novels. In BTGA, everyone has a belief, and no one is a wholly reliable narrator.
To me, it’s primarily a story about character in the face of adversity and temptation. Everyone sees something a little different in BTGA, and many have their favorite characters (it’s a fairly large cast, though not to the extent of some contemporary fantasy).
What are your plans for the rest of the series, and how long is it going to run?
The Wells of the Worlds has a definite arc, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. I have not planned out how many books it will be yet, but it will be no fewer than three, and no more than seven. Once the second book is finished, the rest of the series is going to be nailed down, and I can probably give you a better answer. But unlike the first two books, I actually have some pretty substantial research to do for the remainder of the series, so I will have to figure out exactly how things play out before I can give you a more definite answer. Rest assured, though, that it will not be a Jordan-style epic with no end in sight.
I am actually going to be re-releasing BTGA with chapter header illustrations by the brilliant Michael Lynch (check out a preview at http://michaellynchart.blogspot.com/2014/06/bid-gods-arise-book-illustrations.html). I hope to have him illustrate the entire series, as I love illustrated novels, and think they’re a dying art form. I had always wanted the books judiciously illustrated, but did not have the talent or patience to do it myself. When Mike came along, it was truly a godsend: a fan who could see into my head and put that world onto paper.
That’s awesome! Maybe you can trigger a bit of resurgence in that particular art form. What are some of your favorite epic tales and/or authors?
Well, I’ve read a number. I’m actually a HUGE Star Wars fan, so I tend to read those books above most of the fantasy on my shelves. Timothy Zahn is one of those authors whose books I can read in just a couple of sittings, not because he’s that literary of an author, but because he can suck me into a story to the point that I don’t notice the writing.
The Lord of the Rings sets the bar for everyone else, I’m afraid, and very few epic fantasy authors write the kind of fantasy I tend to prefer. I quite enjoyed Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and I liked the power, epic scope, and crisp writing of the first three [George R.R. Martin] books. However, as with Stephen King, I reached a bit of a saturation point with A Song of Ice and Fire when I realized that no matter how good the writing, I didn’t really care for the worldview, and I just stopped reading. I don’t mind going through a dark tunnel (as readers of BTGA can tell you), but I do want to see a light at the end of it. Life is hard and meaningless enough if you don’t have a paradigm that includes a greater purpose behind it all, and I like to see something of that hope and redemption reflected in the books that I read and the movies that I watch.
I tend to like “mystical” tales rather than “magical” tales as a general rule; perhaps it’s simply my preference to see a search for meaning in fiction, and my disdain for the facile way in which magic has been used in the past to do just about anything an author wants to accomplish. I am almost done with my first reading of the Harry Potter novels, and have been generally impressed, though I have some quibbles. I have liked what I have read of Brandon Sanderson, and would like to read more.
My favorite novel is Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and (spoiler alert!) I pay fairly heavy homage to it in my second book. While living in Flagstaff, I read a fascinating (if strange) book by Wm. Michael Mott called Caverns, Cauldrons, and Concealed Creatures, and it inspired me to revisit an old story that I had tucked away in the back of my closet to be shredded.
Where do you draw most of your inspiration?
Well, I tend to read non-fiction books from a number of bizarre perspectives. The creation/evolution controversy fascinates me quite a bit (though not as much as it used to), and I have read a number of alternative science/history books. I like authors that think outside the box, and even if I don’t agree with what you are proposing, I appreciate someone who can at least state and defend a case. So whereas LOTR was based on Nordic myth and the like, the universe explored in BTGA is based on the sort of Chariots of the Gods/alternative science myth. I wanted to draw from something that was an evocative story, and yet make it wholly my own, so that people would not think I was proposing it as a paradigm for our own world.
I also draw from real life, as most authors do. Chances are good that we have all met someone like the people in BTGA, and if we haven’t, we’ve certainly read about them in history books. One of the characters will seem very familiar to those who have read of Caligula, Vlad the Impaler, or the Marquis DeSade. There is nothing new under the sun, and so most of the trials my characters face tend to be very genuine and human. I try to make it a point to read through the Bible once a year, and use a different translation every time, so it’s always fresh. Most of the themes in The Wells of the Worlds can, in one form or another, be found in the pages of Scripture.
I know you’re a cryptozoologist in addition to being a writer– can you tell us a bit about what cryptozoology entails?
For me, mostly reading and occasionally going out on expeditions. I have had a novel on the back burner since 1992; it was going to be about Mokele-mbembe (or He-who-divides-the-waters), the creature I have been searching for in Africa. Since going on the trip, I realized that I had much to learn, and that writing the nonfiction book about its discovery was actually a greater goal. I haven’t shelved the novel entirely, but it has certainly fallen to the bottom of the pile of things I intend to write. Generally, field work for cryptozoology takes a lot of money (something I don’t really have), and the willingness to subject yourself to less-than-ideal conditions. I can think of a number of places I would love to travel in this world, and none of the animals we are looking for happen to live in hospitable climes. However, I do keep contact with fellow researchers, and have considered going on another expedition if the circumstances are right.
I’d like to tell you what makes a successful cryptozoologist, but really, it’s all pretty hypothetical. Diligence and research are key, as well as an open mind mixed with a healthy skepticism. When it comes to cryptozoology, a number of people fall into the overly credulous camp or the mind-set-like-cement camp. You can’t automatically discount the existence of an animal just because your worldview doesn’t allow for it, but neither can you claim that every blurry photograph out there is proof of your quarry.
Cool. Considering our primary audience is aspiring authors, what advice would you have for them?
I guess my advice is to do your research. Know what you want for your life, and for your writing. We live in a fascinating time for writers; there is a publishing revolution going on, and that has opened up opportunities across the board. However, regardless of what path you choose for your book (“traditional” or self-publishing), do not allow yourself to settle for less than the best in your writing. Set realistic goals, and learn everything you can about the craft. As the saying goes, learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist. Most importantly in this day and age of hyperstimulation, computer addiction, and sound bite info dumps, never stop reading.
Sound advice. So, where can our readers find out more about you and your works?
I am regularly on Facebook, so that is probably the best way to see what I am up to.
Again, thanks so much for having me!
Our pleasure, Robert.
About the Author
Seasoned editor and debut author Robert Mullin is a cryptozoologist who has traveled to Africa three times in search of a living dinosaur. He was featured on an episode of the History Channel show Monster Quest. He is also the creator of The Star Wars Expanded Universe Chronology, one of the premier fan timelines, and available on theforce.net.
Robert Mullin’s debut novel, Bid the Gods Arise, is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.
About the Interviewer
Joel A. Parisi is the author of Shadow Play, the first volume of the series S.H.R.A.I.D. He is a regular contributor here at Vaguely Circular, so you’ll be seeing more posts from him in the future. He’s currently working on way too many projects at once, which is really stressful, but he tends to get bored otherwise.