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Interview with J.V. Hilliard

Born of steel, fire, and black wind, J.V. Hilliard was raised as a highlander in the foothills of a once-great mountain chain on the confluence of the three mighty rivers that forged his realm’s wealth and power for generations.

His father, a peasant twerg, toiled away in industries of honest labor and instilled in him a work ethic that would shape his destiny. His mother, a local healer, cared for his elders and his warrior uncle, who helped to raise him during his formative years. His genius brother, whose wizardly prowess allowed him to master the art of the abacus and his own quill, trained with him for battles on fields of green and sheets of ice.

Hilliard’s earliest education took place in his warrior uncle’s tower, where he learned his first words. His uncle helped him to learn the basics of life and, most importantly, creative writing.

Hilliard’s training and education readied him to lift a quill that would scribe the tale of the realm of Warminster, filled with brave knights, harrowing adventure, and legendary struggles. He lives in the city of silver cups, hypocycloids, and golden triangles with his wife, a ranger of the diamond. They built their castle not far into the countryside, guarded by his own two horse hounds, Thor and MacLeod, and reside there to this day.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
In truth, I am a sucker for vampire novels, movies, or even corny vampire content like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will consume anything with a vampire in it, including watching tweener vamp shows and justifying it to my wife as research for my great American vampire novel one day. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a re-read of mine every Halloween and Salem’s Lot is my favorite contemporary vampire novel.

Q.2 What inspired you to write The Last Keeper?
I wrote The Last Keeper based on twenty years of shared experiences from my various Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. The creativity that comes from playing will always be at the heart of my work. If you’ve ever played a role-playing game, I’m sure you get this. 

Playing D&D with friends and family scattered through several decades really generated a lot of ideas that I could mesh into The Last Keeper, but also allowed me to go off script and away from D&D, creating unique monsters like the Antlered Man and the realm of Warminster.

Q. 3 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
Of course! The Last Keeper was just a book one of the Warminster series. Vorodin’s Lair is the second book and a continuation of the story of Daemus Alaric, the low Keeper from the Cathedral of the Watchful Eye. It is due out in July or August of 2022, with the third book in the series due out around the holidays of 2022 or quarter one of 2023.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I think this may have been more difficult if I started writing as a younger man, but as an older author, I’ve had life experience and relationships that help me understand how better to represent women in my novels.

However, I have created a realm where women, across a spectrum of personalities and thought processes, think differently than those in the real world. I have the benefit of endowing my fantasy realm with different social expectations for all. That said, I do often consult my beta readers to ensure I am not misrepresenting anything.

Q.5 Do you plan out your book before you start writing, or do you just write and see where it takes you?
I am, at my core, a plotter (or planner), whichever term you prefer. I have an 8’ x 4’ wall-long painted white wall that contains my notes, outlines, character arcs, and their various intersections.

For better or worse, I never start a story or even a chapter without knowing the end so I write backward, “reverse engineering” the story to ensure every detail is considered.

Q.6 How long on average does it take you to write a book?
My first book took about a year to write, but my second novel is in editing, and it took about six months. I am finishing the third in the series now, and I have it ready for editing, which took about four months. I am getting better at it as I go.

Q.7 What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part of writing The Last Keeper was going through the publishing process. I was a neophyte at it and was glad to have the help of many friends, family, and vendors like my editors to get the novel into a state worthy of publishing.

Q.8 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I would want to try my hand at some form of storytelling, perhaps on a stage or in film, but they too require a screenplay or manuscript. So, in the spirit of your question, I think I would create strategy games.

Q.9 If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
That’s a fun question, so I have a few answers here since I have three main characters and one villain.

For Daemus Alaric, I can see Jaeden Martell of “It” fame. As Princess Addilyn Elspeth, I can see Poppy Drayton (since she did an excellent job as an elf in the Shannara series), and lastly, as Sir Ritter of Valkeneer, I can see Liam Hemsworth making a great Longmarcher captain.

And of course, for Graytorris the Mad, I see Joaquin Phoenix. His role as “Joker” would make him perfect for the role.

Q.10 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing, tell us about your marketing campaign?
It sure is. It’s like any other marketing campaign, where the book is the product and as the author, I am the brand. Not everyone reads epic fantasy, so finding the right marketplaces to sell and promote is critical from a business perspective.

For example, reaching out through social media channels, availing myself to conventions and shows, and collaborating with other authors, actors, and the like in my genre/space have been incredibly important.

Q.11 If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why?
I would choose to be a Vermilion elf from my realm of Warminster. They live long, are regal and magical creatures, and demand the respect of all the races of the world.

Q.12 If you could invite one character to dinner from your book at home, who would it be and why?
It would be Sir Ritter of Valkeneer. In a twisted way, the story behind Ritter was born from an old Dungeons & Dragons character I played. I think it would be entertaining to have a conversation with my fantasy self.

Q.13 What three things a reader can expect from your book?
First, is to be entertained. I think reading is a form of escapism for many and getting to stare through the eyes of someone else between the covers of a good novel should entertain you. It can be scary, romantic, emotional, or even informative. But my books are about entertaining the reader.

Secondly, expect action. Epic fantasy demands it and who am I to stand in its way? I think that’s one of the most fun things about the genre. Harrowing battles, magic and mysticism, and good conquering evil (well, most of the time).

Lastly, expect details. I am often criticized for too much exposition, but I am a storyteller at heart, and I want the reader to know what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling. It’s a thin line too, as you want them to experience the story and see the characters the way THEY want to see them.

Q.14 Among all the supporting characters in your book, who is dear to you and why?
I love Blue Conney. Imagine a muscular hobbit mixed with a berserker barbarian that rides a war dog and has a blue tattoo “facemask.” If that’s not enough to keep you reading, his drinking scenes and interactions with the other characters will. Oh, and so will his battle scenes.

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How do you select them?
I was referred to Larch Gallagher, my illustrator, by my development editor, Dane Cobain. Dane had used Larch in the past and she and I hit it off straight away. When I described what I wanted, she nearly had it correct on the first pass, but I did send it around to friends to test it out. I am complimented on it all the time and I try to defer to her as its creator.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
Most of the names I’ve used in my novels are repurposed from my years of playing Dungeons and Dragons. Even the characters they embody are relatively the same as the characters I played or “dungeon mastered” through the games for years. I even got permission from my friends and family to use their old character names in the novels. It’s fun to see them jump to life again but in a new form, immortalized in the Warminster series.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
I do read them. I think it is a best practice to learn what you are doing well, and what you need to improve upon. I believe that constructive reviews are helpful in making me the best author I can be, so taking a glance at trends in reviews (and not just the one-offs) is an important discipline for me.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. R.A. Salvatore
, the author of the Dark Elf Trilogy and my favorite fantasy character, Drizzt. It would be great to pick his brain and learn from a true master.

Q.19 Are there any new books or authors in science fiction or fantasy (or both!) have you excited about? What are you reading right now?
. I am reading Abigail Linhardt’s Ziyad the Blasphemer, which is a bit of a short story and origin story wrapped into one. Highly recommend.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
It has been challenging and provided me with an opportunity to see through the eyes of “creatives.” As a casual observer, we all have favorite pastimes, but now that I’ve experienced the blood, sweat, and tears that go into creating something-and having the courage to socialize it-I’ve discovered a greater appreciation for art in all its forms.

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