An interview with Howard Andrew Jones, author of Pathfinder Tales: Beyond the Pool of Stars

Please welcome Howard Andrew Jones to the blog! He kindly answered a few of my questions about his new book, Pathfinder Tales: Beyond the Pool of Stars.
Why do you think Mirian Raas is a compelling character? Why do you think readers will root for her?

She’s capable, decisive, quick-witted, and compassionate. She’s an excellent leader who honestly cares about her followers. I particularly love her determination. She simply refuses to give up or abandon her principles or her people. She works hard to do the right thing even if that makes the path she’s on that much more challenging to navigate.

Will you tell us more about the “world” of Pathfinder, and in particular Mirian’s deep water world?

Golarion is a rich and vibrant world, and part of why I was a fan of Paizo products long before I started working for them. It generally has a high medieval technological level, with magic intercalated into many aspects of various of the world’s cultures.

One of the reasons I set this book (and its sequel – more on that in a moment) down in tropical Sargava is that I wanted to take my readers to somewhere new. There are a lot of fantasy stories with elves and dwarves set in and around feudal societies with stone castles and mighty forests.

Mirian’s world is one of beaches and ships and the lap of waves, and the cool darkness of mysterious ocean depths. She doesn’t wear armor or carry a long sword, although she might carry a cutlass. She doesn’t contend with goblins or the fey, but with monsters of the deep and lizard folk, and even the prejudice of the colonial culture ruling her homeland. She’s of mixed race, but owing to her coloration the colonials see her as native.

What kind of research did you do for the book?

First, years of reading Paizo products, originally in my role of game editor at Black Gate, then as a gamer, then as a writer. I’m familiar with a lot of the rules of Pathfinder and know a lot about the world where many of the Pathfinder adventures are set.

Second, though, for this region of the world I called upon my memories of a cherished trip to Hawaii and immersed myself in the study of tropical regions. I read a mountain of books about naval fiction set in the age of sail and before, even though most of the sea faring in the first book is incidental.

Lastly, my work on the book’s outline happened to coincide with a trip to Orlando and then with a week long trek to the U.S. Virgin Islands. I got to dive in clear waters near a wreck, and take a long boat trip, and wander the coasts and interiors of several islands. I took copious notes about the sway of the waves and the look of fish beneath the water.

What were some of the challenges in writing a book in an established series?

Well, this is different from a lot of established series in that the Pathfinder novels are set up so that each is standalone. Editor James Sutter makes sure that if a writer makes claim to a place it’s kind of protected for us so that other writers can’t come in and stomp down our anthills. Honestly, my first two Pathfinder books, with an elven ranger, Elaya, were a little trickier, because I had to find places for her to wander where other writers hadn’t been.

Sargava was created by the Paizo team in broad strokes with some great adventure hooks, but there was plenty of room left to make it my own. No one else had set stories there!

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell me a bit about your journey?

Yes, but then I also wanted to be a double-naught spy and a starship captain and a Beatle and have a black belt in karate. I finally managed that last, but I think the others will permanently elude me.

I’ve been writing stories for as far back as I can remember. I think I didn’t start getting anything published regularly until my short stories appeared in the small press in the late ‘90s, the most successful of which were my tales of Dabir and Asim, heroic adventurers in ancient Arabia. Their stories were eventually picked up as a series, two books and an e-book that compiled most of their original short stories.

It took a long time to go from struggling writer to published novelist – I didn’t get a short story published professionally until I was in my mid-thirties, and my first novel wasn’t on bookstore shelves until my 40s. Right now I have five books in print, and that feels pretty good. More are on the way.

What’s one of the first things you remember writing?

Hah! Before I could even write I used to draw elaborate pictures and arrange them in sequence and then ask my mom to write what was going on beneath each image. She said she knew early on I was going to be a writer because the descriptions underneath were always a lot more detailed than the pictures. But then she probably guessed I wouldn’t go into illustration because I’m a terrible artist.

I think my first continuing character, from before kindergarten, was super elephant. Because, you know, I liked elephants. What could be better than a story about an elephant except for one who was also a superhero? At least I imagine that’s what 5 year old Howard must have thought.

Why fantasy? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?

Sometimes I ask myself that. I actually was a huge science fiction fan for years and grew up watching and re-watching the original Star Trek, in re-runs. Sometimes I still dream of trying my hand at some space opera, but I’m a little intimidated by the hard science that I’m just not up on.

I’m a huge ancient history buff, and that informs a lot of my work. The aforementioned Arabian stuff, for instance, has elements of the fantastic a la things man was not meant to know and sinister magics and the like, but there’s years of research behind those novels and short stories.

I suppose the thing that keeps me from writing pure historicals is how much I love the sense of wonder a great fantasy story can evoke. Weird and astonishing vistas where my characters can perform their feats of daring, that sort of thing. I’m an adventure writer first and foremost, but I love the ability to talk about contemporary issues in the guise of an adventure story. In Beyond the Pool of Stars, for instance, I hold a mirror up to some of our modern society’s issues with race, gender, and sexual preference. Hopefully without beating people over the head with it!

What are a few of your favorite books and authors?

As an editor at Black Gate and a professional book editor and as a guy blogging at my own site, I’ve written about my favorite older authors at great length. I hope you won’t mind me providing some links.

First, the historical fiction writer Harold Lamb. I spent years lobbying to get him back into print and assembled and edited eight collections of his prose. He’s a neglected master and really needs to be read. He wrote cracking good adventure stories.

Robert E. Howard, best known as the creator of Conan. Man, could that guy write action scenes, and did he have a vivid imagination. Talk about headlong pace!

Two other authors had a huge influence upon me, although in their case it’s was more a single work than their entire canon: Roger Zelazny and his first Chronicles of Amber, and Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories – or at least the first half of the ones he wrote. I never much cared for the back half of the collections.

I have a lot of modern writers I enjoy as well, but this answer is long enough already, and I’d probably leave off a friend by accident, so…

If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?

That’s a tough one! Maybe a historical fiction collection of Robert E. Howard, because a lot of those historicals were so vibrant they blew me away. Maybe one of Lamb’s Cossack stories that hadn’t been in print since the 1920s that I first read on crumbling pulp paper and discovered was just as fine as those that had been collected in the late ‘60s. That was a revelation – sort of like finding a lost Sherlock Holmes story that was just as good as the classics.

What are you currently reading?

I’m SO swamped right now that I can’t afford to be swept up into anything long, so I haven’t touched my to-be-read novel pile in a couple of months. Along with writer Bill Ward I’m re-reading the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard on my web site. 

Other than that I’m reading the rulebook for the Savage Worlds role-playing game in anticipation of doing some role-playing in the winter.

After I turn over my next two novels there are several books at the top of my pile. First, one by my friend Ian Tregillis, The Mechanical. Its sequel, The Rising, will be out in December so I might be able to read them back to back. Second, I’ve heard good things about Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade. I’ve deliberately held off reading it for a while because it sounds like we’re treading parallel paths and I don’t want to be influenced by him. So I’ll read him when I finish my next book.

Lastly, I’m really looking forward to my friend Scott Lynch’s new book, The Thorn of Emberlain. Me and a couple million others, right? The moment it hits my to-be-read pile it gets to the top.

What’s next for you?

I’m in the midst of finishing a final polish on the sequel to Beyond the Pool of Stars, titled Through the Gate in the Sea. It picks up only a few months after this novel, and I guess I shouldn’t say too much about it for fear of spoilers! It does have even more seafaring and daring deeds, including a couple of action scenes among the best I’ve ever written.

As soon as I turn that in, probably this week, I dive back into my new series for St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books, the first book of which I hope to turn over in November. I’m finally through the challenging middle bits and am sailing on toward the conclusion. It’s a little like a cross between the story of the knights of the round table and Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber and if readers have even half as much fun reading it as I’ve had writing it the book should do very well.

Keep up with Howard: Twitter | Website

About Pathfinder Tales: Beyond the Pool of Stars:
Mirian Raas comes from a long line of salvagers, adventurers who use magic to dive for sunken ships off the coast of tropical Sargava. When her father dies, Mirian has to take over his last job: a dangerous expedition into deep jungle pools, helping a tribe of lizardfolk reclaim the lost treasures of their people. Yet this isn’t any ordinary job, as the same colonial government that looks down on Mirian for her half-native heritage has an interest in the treasure, and the survival of the entire nation may depend on the outcome…

From critically acclaimed author Howard Andrew Jones comes a fantastical adventure of deep-water danger and unlikely alliances in Pathfinder Tales: Beyond the Pool of Stars, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.