MJ Kobernus is a writer, editor and founder of Nordland Publishing. He lives in a small village an hour outside of Oslo, Norway. With a distinct leaning towards Metaphysical Fantasy, he has authored several novels in the Guardian series, where a hapless historian inherits a . . . well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out. He has also a good many short stories published, which you can find in various anthologies and magazines.
MJ drives a vintage motorcycle, plays a vintage guitar and has a love of 70s rock music. He is also the self proclaimed inventor of the micro genre of “Flash Philosophy” and is the founder of Nordland Publishing, where he is the Editor in Chief and tea-boy.
MJ is also an avid gamer, so you might find him online as part of the SC2 community, where he delights in teaching people half his age why they should respect their elders. He has published over 40 scientific articles, as well as many short stories in various collections and magazines.
How would you describe your story in one sentence?
What an awful question! Impossible to answer….but here goes…
“Things go badly awry when a historian stumbles into a magical conspiracy and uncovers a secret hidden for a century that threatens not just his life, but the future of humanity.”
What inspired you to write your story/characters/theme?
I am deeply interested in history, philosophy and science, and these elements are major themes in the Guardian. It is well known that all physical matter is comprised of energy. Therefore, if we take it one stage further, it may be possible that energy itself can become matter. This underpins the ‘magic realism’ of the story and is the basis for Metaphysical Geometry, the ‘science’ of witchcraft that is alluded to frequently in the series.
In Blood in the Sand, there are two main characters, and two stories that intertwine. The first is a historian, Philip Entwhistle. He is a ‘nice guy.’ The sort that will help a kid with his homework. Academically average, somewhat timid, he is fascinated by a historical figure that is everything he is not.
Sir James Francis is a linguist, spy and inveterate seducer of other men’s wives. Philip is obsessed with finding out what happened to Sir James in Khartoum in 1922. Was he murdered? Did he catch something nasty and just die? There are no records, but Philip is determined to find out.
What he discovers is extraordinary, dangerous, and sets him on a path from which there is no coming back.
This is the starting point from which I push the envelope in terms of Metaphysical Fantasy and it is continued in the second novel, Blood in the Snow. Release date sometime in 2016.
Which authors have influenced you?
In spite of Heinlein’s penchant for chauvinistic writing, I think a good deal of what he wrote was extremely interesting. He explored themes that were not always acceptable to mainstream society and introduced characters that no one else would write about. For example, I believe that he was the first to cast a Black main character in a sci-fi novel. Also the first Asian main character. In spite of what movie adaptations would have you believe, Jonny Rico in Starship Troopers spoke Tagalog and was from the Philippines. Not a lot of people know that!
I also rate Orwell very highly. Not just his epic 1984, but his other works too. In particular those that deal with social injustice. I think he was a sublime writer, and when in doubt, I always ask myself, “What would Orwell do?”
In terms of Fantasy writers, I have not been inspired by any, in particular. I love Tolkein, but High Fantasy is not for me. I am particularly interested in the advent of more ‘realistic’ fantasy, so I really like Abercrombie’s and Martin’s books, for example. And while my work is very different, I aim to develop a realistic portrayal, as much as that is possible when dealing with fantastical elements.
Which are your favorite literary genres?
I am a big fan of Dystopian literature. Stories that revolve around the collapse of society, for whatever reason, and the subsequent struggle that people endure, merely to survive. I am planning a trilogy of books on a major dystopian theme to follow the Guardian series. That is years away, but it is always on my mind.
What makes a book/story special for you?
Characterization first and foremost. Well defined people that seem real. Add to that some excitement, drama and a crazy adventure and that is probably enough for anyone! I don’t necessarily have to identify with any of the characters in a story, but I want to feel that they are alive.
Where do you live? Did your hometown/country/culture influenced your story?
I live in a small village in rural Norway. I have a view of snow covered hills for most of the year, otherwise pine forests on the off chance that it is actually warm.
Book I of the Guardian begins in England, but book II, Blood in the Snow, takes place largely in Norway. So being resident here has definitely influenced me in terms of the settings of the book. Also the characters too, since I introduce various Norwegians in books I and II.
How long you needed for writing this book/for your first draft/ for your revision/editing process?
Blood in the Sand took about 3 months to write the first draft. Approximately 95,000 words. I then ‘sat’ on it for a further 3 months, while I wrote various other things, including another novel (a sci-fi, with a heavy emphasis on the classic pulp styles of the 50s) that I plan to publish in 2017.
I went back to the manuscript after 3 months, and did a second and third revision. After that, I worked with an editor and trimmed it down to about 85,000 words. So, all in all, about 6-7 months of work, spread out over 1 year.
Book II of the series took longer to write and revise, but I think that was largely due to being overworked. I got a bit burned out, I think.
Did you hire a cover artist/editor/proofreader?
I have worked closely with a cover artist on all the books in the Guardian series. My design guy is awesome. Very dedicated to getting every detail just right. His name is Ash, and you can find a link to him on my blog.
I did not hire professional proof readers, but a good circle of like-minded people (authors many of them) reviewed the manuscript for Blood in the Sand, and helped find the annoying little errors.
I did hire an editor, and I hope to take advantage of him for years to come. It is so vital to have someone really vicious to work with. In my opinion, if your editor is not upsetting you, he is not doing his job. I believe that mine made me look smarter than I am. So a big thanks to Chris Hagan!
What have you learned while writing and publishing? Did unexpected things happened?
I made contact with a lot of people. There are so many people that want to write. The good news is, nothing is stopping them!
If there is one lesson learned from my own experiences it is this: writing takes time. You cannot be in a hurry. If you are, get into a new game, because writing is about patience, diligence and detail. Everything takes longer than you would like, from proofing, editing, design, publishing, etc. The big lesson is writing is not a sprint, it is a marathon.
What helped you to get inspired and overcome hurdles along the writing of your book?
I suppose being somewhat obsessive compulsive helped me. When I want to do something, I tend to throw myself into it and work hard until I achieve my objective.
Also, my wife was very supportive, enabling me to focus on writing without placing too many demands on my time for things that I would simply rather not do. I prioritized writing above socializing, movies, going out, and even sleep. But I always tried to have family time. After all, there are some things that are simply too important to give up.
What would you do differently on a next project?
Not stress out that everything takes longer than I want. And get a cushion for my chair. The damned thing is way too hard. My ass is still hurting.
Best piece (s) of advice for first time writers?
Work only on one thing at a time. Don’t stop until you are done. And proof read your work carefully. Read it aloud. Get someone else to read it aloud, and listen! When you are done, find an editor who will not blow smoke up your ass.
Where can readers contact you in the internet? Do you have a blog/website?
Indeed. You can find me on various writing forums, Facebook and via my blog.
You can also email me at email@example.com
What are you planning to write/publish next?
Book II of the Guardian is almost finished, and will be published later this year. This follows only a month or so after the conclusion of Book I and Philip finds himself, once again, biting off more than he can chew when it comes to dealing with dark powers.
I am writing books III and IV right now, but this will take much longer, I feel. I also have another novel, Blue Water, which I plan to release in 2017. It is a standalone story about alien invasion, corporate greed and a computer hacker with a crippling social anxiety disorder.