An Interview with Justin Call

Recently, Elizabeth Tabler had a chance to interview Justin Call about his novel, Master of Sorrows. You can read our review of Master of Sorrows here.

For those who don’t know, could you start off by telling us a little bit about your new novel, Master of Sorrows?

You know, the blurb for the US cover really nailed (it also happens to have a line from your own review of the book right on the first page), so if folks have a chance to read that, they really should. I’ll assume that’s cheating, though, and say this: Master of Sorrows is about a boy who is conflicted about who and what he wants to become. It’s also a coming-of-age story set at a magic school, but those familiar fantasy tropes are also twisted and turned on their head. For example, instead of a school that instructs its students in the art of magic, the Academy in Master of Sorrows teaches its acolytes that magic is evil and must be confiscated, hoarded, and destroyed. Likewise, it starts out as a narrative about a boy hero who is prophesied to defeat the dark lord, but the reality is it’s an origin story for the dark lord himself.

Image result for justin call authorThat’s the series pitch, though, and that has led several eager readers to be disappointed by the first novel because the main character doesn’t become a villain by the end of the first volume of the series. Master of Sorrows also deals with a much smaller setting: the magic school, the boy and his mentor, and the ominous fate that looms for a protagonist who just wants to earn the respect of his peers and win the girl he pines after. The book takes place over about a week and all of the events occur within a relatively small setting. It’s also a bit of a “slow burn,” giving the readers plenty of time to get to know the world and its rules, and then as the plot thickens and the story escalates, everything the reader has learned becomes vital to understanding and appreciating the narrative and things start to move at the pace of a thriller. The setting is very grim, but it also has a bright thread of hope woven throughout (more Grimheart than Grimdark, perhaps). Finally, the story is intentionally written as a crossover between adult epic fantasy and YA fantasy, so you’ll find a lot of teens really gravitating towards this book despite the fact that the series as a whole is adult fiction.

Can you tell me a little bit about your journey as an author? Did you always gravitate towards writing, or did you find your way here from other interests such as gaming or reading?

I’ve always gravitated towards learning new words and telling stories since I was a little kid. I even dictated a short story for my kindergarten class that my mother typed up and I illustrated and my grandfather paid to have several copies bound into a hardback book. That sort of planted the seed that I could actually do this – make up stories and write them – and nothing I ever encountered in life has dissuaded me from that opinion. I wrote short stories in elementary school that were always much longer than whatever assignment we had been given (you might see a pattern here between that and my current writing), and I started writing my own fiction stories outside of school when I was about ten or so. I didn’t know what SFF fiction was until I was fourteen and stumbled onto it all on my own, but my interests certainly gravitated towards anything with adventure, magic, and wonder. I considered writing literary fiction when I was a student in high school, but more as a lark than as a way to make a living. I think I also knew that one day I would write a fantasy novel, because I had started writing one when I was a tween, and I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons when I was a teenager, so developing plots, characters, and stories just felt natural. I continued studying writing in high school and college, but most of my greatest lessons in writing fiction were self-taught or came from books I read on writing. I dabbled in writing screenplays and considered doing that as my job after college, and for a long time I wasn’t sure if that was my calling or if I should instead be writing fantasy novels or designing board games. In the end, I decided to all of the above and just see what worked out for me. I had some small amounts of success in each field, but finishing the first draft of my epic fantasy novel (which would later become Master of Sorrows) was a huge confirmation that this was what I really needed to be doing. I still remain open to publishing and designing more games and writing some screenplays, but epic fantasy is where my heart lives and so it is natural that this has become my full-time job and primary career.

How was the process of writing the second novel in the series, Master Artificer, differ from writing Master of Sorrows?

40769579. sy475 I wrote Master of Sorrows over a period of about 17 years, although the bulk of the book was written in a period of about nine months. It had to be done that way (at least for me) so that I could understand the wider world I had created and so that I could do all the world building for the rest of the series up front. I also outlined several books for the series at that time (enough material for 12-18 books). Then when I finally finished my first draft of MoS, I had a lot of time to polish things for my editors and get the book in the best shape possible.

Master Artificer was much different because I already had all the groundwork laid out before I began, though that also meant I had about fifteen different outlines for the book when I initially sat down to write it. I also had a better idea of how much material would fit in book 2, but that still didn’t stop me from drafting way too much and leaving out several scenes that I had originally outlined (I’m getting better at overplanning, but I’m not there quite yet). Finishing the first draft of Master Artificer has also helped me see the overall trajectory of the series, so I can course correct for events that I have planned later in the series. Moving beyond the writing process itself, though, I can say that Master Artificer has several new character points-of-view (Master of Sorrows has basically one POV for the whole book), and the setting for Master Artificer is much, much larger.

Are there any pitfalls for writing a sequel that you fell into as a writer, how did you work around them?

I think the greatest pitfall in writing any book (outside of the writing itself) is a question of ex