An Interview with Fantasy Author Jordan R. Murray

When did you start taking writing seriously and honing your craft?

I had some poetry published in english and french while in college, but for fantasy, I would say in 2014. I’d been working on my first book on and off for about two years. At first it was a casual amusement; I would work on it when I was bored to see where the story would go. When my interest evolved into sheer stubbornness and a desire to finish it, I started thinking about making it into a story that was good enough to sit on someone else’s bookshelf - that was quite an exciting moment for me!

Are you a pantser or planner? What is your philosophy on planning out your books / pantsing through the writing process?

How about an organized pantser? I do have earnest intentions of having a plan to start. Making outlines and answering story questions are essential parts of the process. It’s important that planning doesn’t get in the way of developing new ideas and directions, yet I work better when writing more freely vs. writing toward an inevitable outcome, and I believe my plot twists are more unpredictable because of that fusion.

What three fantasy authors would you say has most influenced your writing?

That’s a tough question! I’ve always admired the plot twists and magic systems that Brandon Sanderson comes up with, particularly in his Mistborn trilogy. Actually, I read the first book he published, Elantris, after reading some of his later works. Sanderson’s character development and storytelling when he first started writing was leagues away from what he writes now! It was inspiring to see how far he’s come as a writer.

I’ve read and loved a lot of the fantasy written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The characters in their Dragonlance series are so beautifully brought to life, flaws and all, that I strive to keep in mind with my own writing how flaws are interesting and valuable parts of characters. Weis and Hickman are also able to weave together lots of threads from different worlds in their series, like in their Death Gate Cycle books. I hope that in time my Magic in the Imperium series will have a similar amount of cohesion to it.

To be honest, I don’t read a lot of fantasy while I’m writing fantasy. I tend to read exactly the opposite, and I find that affects my writing in positive ways. I’ve been on a Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Vonnegut run lately.

Have you ever abandoned a piece of writing and left it unfinished? Would you ever go back, change it and finish it?

I think most authors have an entire warehouse full of broken stories! I like to be pretty optimistic, though. It’s too early in my writing career for me to admit that anything has been abandoned. There are many sci-fi projects that I chose to put on hold in order to finish my fantasy series. I like to think my other stories are in for a good sleep, out to the country for some fresh air, or churning in the back of my mind when I have a quiet moment.

What fantasy subgenre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?

I’m very drawn to epic fantasy. I’ve always liked complex plots, and subtleties within the cultural context of fantasy worlds. I like to plant easter eggs, conversations with subtext, detailed descriptions, and brief mentionings with cultural relevance. Food, music, art, all ways in which my world grows richer for the reader when they pick up on a reference. It is delightful when I get a note or message from a fan who notices and connects the dots.

Outside of fantasy, what genre or subgenre would you like most to write in? (eg. Historical Fiction, Mystery, Sci Fi, Spy Thriller, etc.)

Science fiction is another love of mine. I‘ve been working on some science fiction short stories which blossomed into a novella, and will probably end up being a full length space opera. I find I write with more of a ridiculous bent when space exploration is brought into the mix. The closest way I could come to describe it would be a mix of Neil Gaimon and Douglas Adams? I suspect that an entire universe will slowly come together with a few of my sci-fi works in progress, and when I figure out how a trio of rogues crosses paths with space pirates who run a hotel in a meteor field... Well, I’ll let you know!

What was the first book you've published and what do you like about it?

My first book is The Emperor’s Horn. Writing from the perspective of multiple characters allowed me to build a richer story about the Imperium than if I had focused on a single person. It was thoroughly satisfying to intertwine the paths of these characters and lay the groundwork for future books in the series.

What was the most recent book you've published and what do you like about it?

The second book in my Magic in the Imperium series, The Bone Reader, was released this year. Building a lot of the groundwork in the first book gave me a little more freedom with character development. It allowed me to be more bold with the plot, and have more dramatic things happen to the characters now that the reader is better acquainted with them. I enjoyed twisting the fates of the characters together a little more tightly.

What was your favourite hero/protagonist you've thus far written about? What makes them special?

Herbert Tanasen has a special place in my heart. He’s a farmer’s son whose magic allows for the success of their crops, and wins his family a noble title. He has nature magic described as Constructive magic in the books, which manifests as a connection with
plants and trees, really all growing things. He’s also ruled by his heart and his emotions. Quick to love and hate, quick to form opinions, and hopelessly stubborn. I think he’s someone I sympathize with on a deep, instinctual level.

What was your favourite villain/antagonist thus far? What makes them special?

There is an advisor to the Empress in my series known as the Praelor. He has a lot of mystery surrounding his past, and I can’t reveal too much about why I love him because of spoilers, but, in a world where literacy and books are very rare he has a way to create and control magic through ink. Whatever he writes down he can influence, be it a person’s name or an idea.

As the spice must flow in Dune, the ink must flow for the Praelor. A lot of his actions help to drive the plot of the series. At the moment, I find that I’m enjoying the villains of my series even more than my heros, yet there are definite grey areas about who to root for and why.

If you could propose the plot of a TV show what would you make it about?

I’ve kicked around the idea of writing a cook into a fantasy setting as a main character. I’m a big foodie, and love to eat and cook delicious meals, even while camping - especially while camping. What I would love to see is a medieval fantasy show where
people don’t want just another “adventurer” darkening their doorstep, but for a good stew they’ll tell all their secrets.

There are some truly fascinating things about medieval cooking and baking that would be a blast to bring up. How many people know how deer antlers used to be ground up and used as the equivalent of baking powder? Not many, I expect.

Think of the wars that might start over a ruined banquet, or a poisoned soup. Or how to turn the favor of a lord or queen by tempting them with an exotic food from a neighboring kingdom… Like part food porn/cooking show, part epic fantasy adventure. I’d watch the heck out of a tv show like that. Recipes available online at the end of the episodes? Even better.

Do you like to use tropes in your writing and subvert the reader's expectations, or do you try to avoid them entirely?

I try to avoid tropes. Heroic cycles aside, every time I’m tempted to put in a prophecy with the chosen one, or an orphan destined for greatness, I just can’t bring myself to do it. A lot of my readers are surprised that they don’t know what’s going to happen next, so for good or ill my books will keep you guessing!

What skills do you yourself possess that you feel the need to write about and keeps you inspired? (eg. Archery, blacksmithing, horsemanship, languages, etc.)

As a musician, I’ve written songs that take place in my books. I’ve performed enough on stage to think about the way that scenes appear in stories, almost as if you could watch them take place from the audience. I love to garden and travel, so a lot of the descriptions about plants, the different provinces of the Imperium, a lot of my work is influenced by my own experiences.

My grandparents had a nursery for fruit and landscape trees for decades, so I think that definitely shaped the way I approach nature magic in my books. Being an anthropologist also gives me valuable insight into creating believable cultures. It fires my imagination to think of all the ancient artifacts that exist from our own past, and all the stories they could tell.

Do you get annoyed when you see movies, TV shows or books that show unrealistic depictions of things or do you brush it off as the 'magic of fantasy'?

Oh, absolutely. As a singer, I get really bothered when someone is badly dubbed. I can often tell at a glance by the way they breathe or their way their tongue and chin move whether or not they’re singing. With a degree in Anthropology, every time I see a show or movie where they bring in an explorer or anthropologist who just starts looting the heck out of stuff, or is culturally insensitive, I can’t help but cringe and fight the urge to ask everyone around me if they think that’s realistic. I still love Indiana Jones, though. Somehow, Harrison Ford can do no wrong. Don’t ask me why!

Do you celebrate after you finish writing a chapter or a book? How do you celebrate?

There’s likely a stiff drink involved. After my first book was done, I happened to spot a wine named “Praxis”, which is a town and university featured in my book. I ordered half a case, and kept a bottle for posterity. I also have a weakness for good single malt scotch. Ardbeg and Laphroig are favorites of mine, or Highland Park if I’m in the mood for something smoother.

What is the darkest thing you've ever written about?

There are definitely dark moments in my books, both with physical and psychological pain. A boy is caught spying on Imperial soldiers right before they carry out a surprise attack. The captain of the soldiers needs information, so he tortures the boy to death in front of one of the main characters, who is a healer, yet declares the boy isn’t worth keeping alive. That decision is only one of many which will come back to haunt him.

If you could go back in time and change something in your past to become a better writer, what would you change? (For temporal causality purposes we will assume this doesn't completely change history and that only that one thing has been changed.)

I had a wonderful language arts teacher in middle school who encouraged me to submit some short stories and poems for publication. I remember one in particular I was pretty proud of, a modern retelling of the Princess and the Pea which I called The Angel and the Acorn. When I got my first round of rejection letters - which were very nice, really, and with good feedback, I was easily discouraged and didn’t pursue it further. I think if I could go back, I would love to have a conversation with myself about failure being an invaluable learning tool.

When reading fantasy what is one thing you wish other authors would stop doing?

To answer a slightly different question, I think something indie authors do that hurts them the most is publishing stories which never reach an editor. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve come across a book online and seen reviews like “good story, but there were so many grammar mistakes I couldn’t read it” or “terrible spelling, fragmented sentences, but I loved the premise”. The irony is that unedited stories kill book sales, and those sales create the income to hire an editor for the next book!

Do you sometimes find it difficult to find books to read because you are looking for something specific, nobody has written it, and you realize you should just write it?

It may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t believe there are huge holes in what’s available. I would argue it’s more likely the book is unknown to a reader rather than unwritten. There are already so many stories out there!

Here are a few amusing examples to illustrate when I thought I had a unique idea that no one had done before:

My first book is called the Emperor’s Horn because an ancient horn is discovered that was used to end the Relic Wars about a thousand years or “cycles” before the book takes place. I was so proud of the idea to use an ancient, mysterious horn as the catalyst for my story. Then a year or so after I released the book, I started reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. When this mysterious and ancient prophecy turned up about “The Great Horn” I was gutted!

Another funny example came up about a month before I published The Emperor’s Horn. I saw the preview for a Netflix series called Iron Fist. Now, I’ve still not seen Iron First to know how or why the guy’s arm glows, but the trailer was still enough to be a shock. You see, one of the main characters in my series has an accident which fuses a part of his arm with glowstone. The arm is badly scarred and glows red when he uses his magic. This Iron Fist character reminds me that unintentional similarities in fantasy are more common than we realize.

Where do you see yourself twenty years from now and what might you be writing about by then?

I would love to have solid footing in both fantasy and science fiction. With any luck, my Magic in the Imperium series would be done and have a few prequels. To have a space opera or two published, and finished a few other stories I have shelved would be great as well.

I love to paint a broader picture of the worlds I create, so short stories are a personal challenge. Attending a Clarion workshop would be a dream come true, and If I could grow enough to write and publish short stories on a regular basis I would consider that an enormous personal accomplishment.

What is your next book that is coming out, when should it be available, and what is it about?

I’ve already jumped into writing the next book in my Magic in the Imperium series, whose working title is “The Fractured Crown”. It will focus on the capital of the Imperium, The Blue City, and reveal more about the royal family and the agenda of the Empress. The two main characters made some unexpected choices in the second book, so they each have their own ways of dealing with the repercussions. I’d love to have it published by early next 2021, but only time will tell.

What are you currently reading by other fantasy authors?

I have a pretty big stack of books to read at the moment. A few of them are the finalists from SPFBO this year, which I encourage everyone to check out! Never Die by Rob J. Hayes is at the top of my list, as is the Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang. Ten Tales of a Dark Tomorrow by Kevin Kuhn is another book on my to read list, and if I don’t read The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu soon I think I might have to hide the book - it’s been unread on my desk for months now! I have a vacation coming up, so that’ll be a nice chance to do some reading.



Maria Spada did the cover art for both books, and the map is by Jonathan Elliott.

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